Well that sounds like a stupid question. Of course I know God! Now get out of my way, I’m trying to go to church!
How about this:
How many things do you know about God?
Does your knowledge translate into knowing God?
A few months back, I picked a book off my Dad’s bookshelf from his seminary days – J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. I leafed through it, and put it down. It was okay, but couched in somewhat old fashioned language, and I just wasn’t that impressed.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I picked the book up again – and was blown away. Absolutely amazed. It was as if I has simply not been ready to read this book, but now I find it amazing, despite the antiquated language. So I’m actually preparing a sermon series based on the book, and I’d just like to reflect on it with you.
As I asked before – does your knowledge of God translate to knowing God? I’ve spent the last three years with my nose in all sorts of books while in seminary. I can rattle off fact after fact about God. But there were times I can look back on and say I was not truly focused on knowing God.
How much do you know about Tom Cruise? Probably a lot. Katie Holmes, Suri, Oprah, Scientology, crazy eyes, popularity in the tank, etc. These days, thanks to relentless pursuits by photographers, our celebrity-centered voyeuristic thirsts are constantly being sated. But do we actually know any of these people? Some people make the heart breaking mistake of thinking they do, but the answer is no.
And there are plenty of Christians who listen to sermon after sermon, read chapter after chapter of their Bible and know plenty about God. But that recognition of facts does not translate to a personal, intimate knowledge of one another.
Two reasons I believe Christians often fail to know God:
God is not politically correct: Describe God in one word to me. Was it love? Something similar? Chances are, it was something like that. Love, grace, mercy are all good words to describe God. The problem is, those are the only words we use, and they are not the complete picture. So we say ‘God is love’ (which only occurs twice in the whole Bible – both in 1 John). Then we don’t look at the rest of the facets of God’s personality. So we believe that God’s love is going to look much like our love.
But God is so much bigger than us, and his love is so much more multifaceted than ours. So God ends up acting in a way that we don’t expect. His ‘love’ doesn’t match our idea of love. He doesn’t act ‘politically correct.’ (How politically correct is God – Old or New Testament?) God is decribed with not just words like ‘love’ but ‘judge,’ or even ‘wrath.’
The word ‘love’ is a lot like the word ‘nice.’ Remember when you had to write a story in school, and your teacher told you to not use the word ‘nice.’ That was because every child will describe everything as ‘nice’ unless told not to. The cookies were nice. The frog was nice. The word was trite, undescriptive, and overused to the point of cliche. ‘Love’ is in dangerously similar territory. When it isn’t developed by other words, it becomes a word we try to cram God into, a word in which God can’t possibly fit. Sure cookies are nice. But they’re a bunch of other stuff too. God is love, but that’s not all either.
So God ends up ‘acting out,’ not acting like ‘love’ as we wish to imagine love acting. He doesn’t answer our prayers, doesn’t do what we want, etc. Have you ever felt you had to defend God? God hasn’t answered your prayers, or he allowed a natural disaster, or just generally is not being a ‘team player.’ So when you’re around your non-Christian friends, you feel you have to defend God, perform damage control, public relations, spin every event in God’s favor. So we’re concerned with defending an image of God that doesn’t really describe God at all because we don’t like how the Bible sometimes portrays God.
Second reason Christians don’t know God:
We’re concerned with feeling God: Everything churches do today, by and large is designed to create a feeling. We select the best worship music, by our standards. We dim the lights, light some candles, repeat the chorus, write ‘relevant’ messages, and then hope God comes down and blesses it. If a couple of people cry or feel really good after listening to us, then we’ve done our work.
Here’s the thing, music and sermons and emotions are all good things in worship. But they don’t necessarily have anything to do with ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.’ I am all for pastors speaking to the generation that’s in front of them. I am all for musicians playing music that fits our culture. But we won’t create a generation of Christ followers without the pursuit to know God.
Go back to your Bible and read a passage you’ve avoided or have been uncomfortable with. Don’t make excuses for God. Don’t try to justify God’s behavior based on how you want Him to look. Just look at who He says He is and how he really behaves. You will find that true knowledge of God is so much richer than praying to a cuddly, fuzzy, false image of God.
I’m going to talk to my church about God’s wrath some Sunday coming up, and I’ll probably reflect upon with you too. I promise, when we’re done, you will not just be comfortable, but thankful for God’s wrath. Even God’s wrath fulfills His love! Amazing, delighting in God’s wrath.
Do you feel you know God or know about God? What parts of God have you been avoiding? How do you usually react when you come to an uncomfortable part of the Bible? Have you ever felt the need to defend God when He looks bad?