God: Knowing God

In Psalm 113:5-6, the psalmist asks: “Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?”

We still are asking that question. The self-help sections of bookstores and online catalogs offer seemingly countless books addressing ways to know God from Christian, quasi-Christian and other religious perspectives. Some of these books teach universalism; others teach pantheism or panentheism. Those with a New Age perspective often promise keys to finding secret knowledge concerning God.

Many people are seeking to know God or at least to connect with some sort of “higher power.” That should not surprise us, since God created humans in his image, giving us a “spiritual appetite.” Theologian and philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with saying that within each person there is a “God-shaped hole looking to be filled.”[1] We would hope that a person sincerely seeking to know God would receive clear direction from all Christian churches. Sadly, that is not always the case.

Given our limited minds, we humans are unable to fully comprehend all there is to know about God. Paul put it this way: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33). Though God lives in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), he has not left us completely in the dark. Note Jesus’ remarkable statement in Matthew 11:27: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” I love how the second-century Christian teacher Irenaeus explained this verse:

No one can know the Father apart from God’s Word, that is, unless the Son reveals him, and no one can know the Son unless the Father so wills. Now the Son fulfills the Father’s good pleasure: the Father sends, the Son is sent, and he comes. The Father is beyond our sight and comprehension; but he is known by his Word, who tells us of him who surpasses all telling. In turn, the Father alone has knowledge of his Word. And the Lord has revealed both truths. Therefore, the Son reveals the knowledge of the Father by his revelation of himself. Knowledge of the Father consists in the self-revelation of the Son, for all is revealed through the Word. (in Against Heresies)

This means that no one can know God unless and until God reveals himself – and he has chosen to reveal himself through Jesus. The word reveal comes from the Greek word apokalupto, meaning to take off the cover—to disclose or reveal. It is the opposite of kalupto, which means to cover up; hide. The Old Testament speaks of the Shekinah glory of God, present within the innermost part of the Tabernacle behind the veil. No one was allowed behind that veil except the high priest, and then only once a year. For most of the time, God remained hidden behind the veil. So when Jesus said he had come to reveal the Father, his followers were understandably intrigued.

When Philip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus replied: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). God sent his Son to “pull back the covers” and reveal who he is through his Son. We must be careful not to let preconceptions of what God is like determine our thinking and behavior toward God. Only Jesus has perfect and complete knowledge of God, and he shares that knowledge with us.

Through the life and ministry of Jesus, we get the best look at what God is like this side of our resurrection. Jesus alone is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He alone brings “insider knowledge” of the whole of God as the eternal Son of God. He alone is God’s self-revelation in time and space, flesh and blood. In Jesus, God has
come to us in person, meeting us face-to-face so that we may know him truly and personally.

Jesus shared himself and what he knew with his disciples, whom he called his friends. He commissioned them, and those who follow them, to go into the world and make that knowledge known—not through books and programs offering esoteric, “hidden knowledge” or esoteric, private experiences—and certainly not through a complex web of philosophical arguments and counter-arguments. Jesus told his followers that they could come to know God through relationships, including relationships with each other and with those outside the Christian community. He said that the clearest sign that would point others to him would be the love that his followers have for each other—a love reflecting God’s own love for all people.

[1] Pascal wrote: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Author: Joseph Tkach

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