Thursday, January 24, 2008
TO KNOW GOD
All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.
So Jesus said to those who believed in him, 'If you obey my teaching you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'
You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
If we obey God's commands, then we are sure that we know him. If someone says that he knows him, but does not obey his commands, such a person is a liar and there is no truth in him. But whoever obeys his word is the one whose love for God has really been made perfect. This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God: whoever says that he remains in union with God should live just as Jesus Christ did.
What he commands is that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ commanded us. Whoever obeys God's commands lives in union with God and God lives in union with him. And because of the Spirit that God has given us we know that God lives in union with us.
This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers! If a rich person sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against his brother, how can he claim that he loves God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which showsitself in action.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit.
Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father. When that day comes, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, cast out devils in your name, and in your name perform miracles?' Then I will tell them to their face, 'I never knew you: out of my sight, you and your wicked ways!'
(Philippians 3: 10-11, GNB; John 8: 31-32, GNB; John 5: 39-40, NIV; 1 John 2: 3-6, GNB; 1 John 3: 23-24, GNB; 1 John 3: 16-18, GNB; Galatians 5: 22-25, RSV; Matthew 7: 21-23, NEB)
The business of knowing God, and it is after all our chief business, is not so easily practised as it is talked about. For many of us 'knowing God' consists of having given intellectual assent to Christ's claims to duty and having accepted the fact that Christ died for our sins. We then blithely go through the routine of life, say a few mumbled prayers -- perhaps even on a daily basis -- study the Bible a little and regularly attend the services of the church. We might even be involved in volunteer ministry. We might just feel serious enough about the whole thing to tithe. For some, 'knowing God' may even have led them to attend Bible college or seminary -- perhaps even to engage in 'full-time' Christian ministry. But is this what is really meant by 'knowing God'? 'Knowing God' goes far deeper.
We parrot the phrase 'having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ'. But do we really understand what we are talking about? Do we realise that those words refer to 'intimate, constant companionship'? It is a relationship very much like being in the presence of one's best friend all day long and constantly interrupting the work or the silence for conversation wherein you reveal the deepest longing, pains, fears, joys and sorrows that you've experienced. And it is two-way conversation. How often do we really listen to God? Do we study the Bible simply to have more and better Bible knowledge? Or, do we study the scriptures to hear and see and know the Person behind them?
And does our knowledge really change us in any way? Indeed, we may become more 'mystical', more 'spiritual', and 'free'. But how does our companionship with God change the way we act towards others? Do we love more deeply, with greater sensitivity, greater practicality? In God's name how have we loved? With greater mercy, compassion and generosity? Have we loved only with our tongues and not with food, clothing and shelter for the poor? Or, have we loved in action, only to let our razor tongues destroy another child of the Father?
How well do we know God? How well do we image Christ? It is to that extent, and no further, that true knowledge of God dwells in us.
For you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.
Augustine, The Confessions
Thy beloved is of that nature, that he will admit of no rival; but will have thy heart alone, and sit on his throne as king.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because he said, 'Do it', or once abstained because he said, 'Do not do it'. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you.
George MacDonald, Anthology
[We]... would rather receive salvation from God than God [who is] our salvation.
George MacDonald, Anthology
And here again we ought to observe that we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which... merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart.
John Calvin, Institutes
Only [God] himself is completely and utterly sufficient to fulfil the will and longing of our souls. Nothing else can. The soul, when it is restored by grace, is made wholly sufficient to comprehend him fully by love. He cannot be comprehended by our intellect or any other person's -- or any angel's for that matter. For both we and they are created things... to the intellect, God... is forever unknowable ... to love, he is completely knowable.
The Cloud of Unknowing
Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him.
The Cloud of Unknowing
A man may sink by such slow degrees that, long after he is a devil, he may go on being a good churchman or a good dissenter and thinking himself a good Christian.
George MacDonald, Anthology
[Each of us] should render our account to God. No third person dares venture to intrude upon this accounting between God and the individual... the most ruinous evasion of all is to be hidden in the crowd in an attempt to escape God's supervision of us as an individual.
Behind every saint stands another saint... I never learnt anything myself by my own old nose.
Baron von Huegel
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
This is the reason why we have no ease of heart or soul, for we are seeking our rest in trivial things that cannot satisfy, and not seeking to know God, almighty, all-wise, all good. He is true rest. It is his will that we should know him, and his pleasure that we should rest in him. Nothing less will satisfy us.
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
He alone is able to make himself known as he really is. We seek in reasoning and in the sciences, as in a bad copy, for what we neglect to see in an excellent original... We leave him for trifles, and disdain to hold converse with our king, who is always present in us. It is too little to love God and know him by what books tell us, or by what we feel within, through a few worshipful ideas, or some inspiration. We must... lift ourselves above all that which we feel, to worship God and Jesus Christ... as they are in themselves.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
Come, 0 Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing your grace;
streams of mercy never ceasing
call for songs of 1oudest praise.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.
To your grace how great a debtor
I become in all I do;
let that grace now, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to you.
Prone to wander -- Lord, I feel it
prone to leave the God I love,
take my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
seal it in your courts above.
O Lord our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day; defend us in the same with your mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin; neither run into any kind of danger: but that all our doings may be ordered by your governance, to do always what is righteous in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
>From Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion), chapter 40