What Knowing God Involves
Written by J.I. Packer |
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; and fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.
A Complex Business
It is clear, to start with, that “knowing” God is of necessity a more complex business than “knowing” another person, just as “knowing” my neighbor is a more complex business than “knowing” a house or a book or a language. The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. Knowledge of something abstract, like a language, is acquired by learning; knowledge of something inanimate, like Ben Nevis or the British Museum, comes by inspection and exploration. These activities, though demanding in terms of concentrated effort, are relatively simple to describe. But when one gets to living things, knowing them becomes a good deal more complicated. One does not know a living thing till one knows not merely its past history but how it is likely to react and behave under specific circumstances. A person who says, “I know this horse,” normally means not just “I have seen it before” (though the way we use words, he might mean only that); more probably, however, he means “I know how it behaves, and can tell you how it ought to be handled.” Such knowledge comes only through some prior acquaintance with the horse, seeing it in action and trying to handle it oneself.
In the case of human beings, the position is further complicated by the fact that, unlike horses, people keep secrets. They do not show everybody all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still have to say at the end of that time, “I don’t really know him at all.” We recognize degrees in our knowledge of our fellow men. We know them, we say, well, not very well, just to shake hands with, intimately, or perhaps inside out, according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us.
Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them. When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them good will, and to open up in a friendly way from our side. From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not.