June 3, 2020

iMonk Classic: In the End God Knows Us

Corner Gate

Our brother, Michael Spencer joined the church triumphant on April 5, 2010, and was laid to rest on April 10, 2010.

Today and tomorrow we feature special posts to honor him.

* * *

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…

– Galatians 4:9a, ESV

I’ve been teaching Galatians for over a year, and I happened to cross this verse this week, a week marked by the passing of one of my most significant mentors. She exemplified many things in my life, but one of the most significant was her amazing hunger for the teaching of the Word of God. She had a quick and focused mind that was always taking in a sermon or a book of theology or Biblical teaching. Right up until her last few months, she was accumulating knowledge about God.

It’s interesting to me that Paul interrupts himself in Galatians 4 — almost corrects himself — to say that the better way to describe the Christian experience is coming to be known rather than coming to know. People who make this kind of distinction can be a bit irritating.

But there’s a reason to make such a distinction, and it’s very important we make it.

South WallPaul is making a reference to the incredible sea of God’s love and grace in which the believer finds himself. He may be learning about God, but when he looks up, the God that he is learning about has, in fact, dropped a few crumbs of knowledge onto his plate. Surrounding the believer is a vast ocean of God’s immensity, sovereignty, omniscience, omnipresence and goodness. In a lifetime, we see a speck of God in our tiny brains, but the God in whom we live, move and have our being surpasses every measurement and comparison.

This God knew us in eternity. He knew us before birth. His knowledge preceded us and meets us no matter where we find ourselves. His knowledge of us is encyclopedic, utterly honest, complete and compassionate. He will know us a million years from now in the same way, and we will only have begun to know him.

As the universe dwarfs our measly attempts at knowledge, so God overwhelms all the combined knowledge of every knowing being in the universe.

Our knowledge is a grain of sand, and yet we strut proudly. Our knowledge of God is the first crayon’s mark on a page to his million times magnified Shakespearean greatness. And yet we brag.

My friend would have been the first one to agree. What God has graced us to know of him in this life should be our passionate study, but God is not measured by what we know. That is why the most knowledgeable among us may, in the end, be the most humble or the most mystical. What God shows us is true, as true faith is based on truth. But our little books of God-knowledge are documentaries on a few caught reflections from a Sun we cannot bear to see.

If our hope comes to what we know of God, our knowledge has led us astray. What our knowledge has shown us is the wonder of being KNOWN.

The Bible is full of persons who believe they know God and are surprised to discover how little this matters compared to God’s knowledge of them. The lost sheep knew the shepherd, but how little he knew of the shepherd’s love for him. The prodigal knew his father, but never realized his his father knew and loved him.

My uncle was another of my mentors. He was a deep and insightful pastor with a mind that absorbed the scriptures. But the last year of his life, his mind betrayed him. He became someone else. Angry. Profane. It was a terrible time for his wife and friends. We could hardly stand to be near him. What happened to all he knew? What happened to that mind that taught all of us so much?

His brain was dying, as all of us should know. Many of us, sadly, will come to a similar place, often for much longer. What we know will be locked away or gone entirely. We may lose the knowledge of our spouses and children.

What will matter is this: Does God know us?

South WallMany years ago, an aging pastor came to talk to me. He also was a very intelligent man. He taught Latin at our school. He wanted personal counsel. Age was affecting his mind and emotions. He doubted if God loved him. He was afraid of hell and frightened of death. He thought God had abandoned him for his sins. His mind had become a frightful and dark place, filled with paranoid thoughts. I tried to assure him of the love of God; the God he had known, proclaimed and believed in for so many years of faithful ministry.

His mind could not take hold of my words. All that was left were the fears and doubts he had suppressed throughout life. Now he was a caricature of himself, terrified and afraid of God.

A few months later, he was gone.

These were my friends. They read the books. Thought the theological thoughts. They taught, read, preached. They had knowledge of God.

In the end, their minds weakened, rebelled or turned on them. Knowledge disappeared.

But God did not. God knew them and God was with them.

This is the Good News. We are privileged to know God, and he reveals himself to us. But the God we come to know releases us from the trap of holding onto knowledge as our salvation. He comes to us as a Father, lover, mediator, gracious and all-embracing savior.

“I know you.” He said those words to my mentor, my uncle, my co-worker. They were never left to experience what they knew. They were taken hold of by one who loved them before, behind, around and to the uttermost.

An infant does not know anything about his/her parents. Knowledge will come, but life begins in utter vulnerability and trust. It is the love of mother/father for child that dominates our beginning. Recognition will come, but not at first.

So at the end, things are much clearer. Know God in the present and give all of mind and heart to the study of his Word and good thoughts about Him. But, in the end, lay down and rest. Lay down in him and go home.

A few months ago, we adopted a puppy. We had to drive 7 hours in the pouring rain to get home. All the way, she huddled herself in my wife’s lap, and never moved. She did not run, bark or panic. She rested in us and we brought her home.

You do not need to know the way home. Jesus is the way. He knows and loves you. You will be safe.

* * *

Read Psalm 139 to experience a beautiful and prayerful expression of what Paul is saying.

Comments

  1. “These were my friends. They read the books. Thought the theological thoughts. They taught, read, preached. They had knowledge of God.

    In the end, their minds weakened, rebelled or turned on them. Knowledge disappeared.

    But God did not. God knew them and God was with them.”

    One of my biggest fears is Alzheimer’s – to lose the part of myself I hold most dear, my mind and my intellect. I know the evils of my heart, and fear to lose control of them and to have others see them, and to be a burden to others as I slowly fade away.

    God and the Gospel are greater than even my fears.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I’m with ya on that one, Eeyore. And as my mom has lost all memory of me and my sister and pretty much everything else, every time I forget a person’s name or have trouble coming up with a word, I have a little panic attack.

    • “I know the evils of my heart, and fear to lose control of them and to have others see them, and to be a burden to others as I slowly fade away.”

      I had to smile when I read that since I have the exact same fear. I have seen it happen with older relatives where “godly” and “proper” people turned into randy old men or angry women who swore like sailors. I realize that all those things I keep in by biting my tongue will eventually come out when the brain begins to fail and starts leaving the gate of my mouth open.

      God give grace to those who have to take care of me then and thank you that my eternal life is secured by you and not my own righteousness.

  2. Robert F says

    The grace and salvation given through Jesus Christ does not depend on my competence, or my certainty.

    • We are not saved by what Jesus taught, and we are certainly not saved by what we understand Jesus to have taught. We are saved by Jesus himself, dead and risen. “Follow me” he says. It is the only word that finally matters.

      Robert Capon, end of chapt. 6, The Parables of Grace

  3. fix the elevator says

    I wish I could have met and gotten to know Michael. He seems so….real, like the sort of person anyone could talk to about anything, and he’d have a special word of grace for each one of them. RIP Michael Spencer.

    • I was on a road trip recently and noticed that I had downloaded some time in the previous year or two to my phone a handful of Steve Brown, Etc. podcasts, but they were titled in such a way that I had no idea who the interviewees were. One of them happened to be an interview with Michael. I almost wept hearing his voice again. I never met him in person either, but dang, he’s missed.

      • fix the elevator says

        Really? I’d love to hear it. Where can I find it?

        • I think it was under ‘The Brown Sessions’ at the old SBE site, but I don’t know at their new one. I’ll see what I can find for you

  4. Caught a report on NPR yesterday about older veterans showing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the end of their lives. The basic mechanism seems to be the suppression of trauma until the festering breaks out in one last attempt to be healed this side the death of body. Sometimes the quiet question, “Is there anything troubling you?”, is enough to release it. Combat intensifies the stress but life in general can be traumatic.

    In the ongoing quickening of spiritual evolution, there seems to be growing awareness that just as we are not our bodies, neither are we our egos, and that would include our mind. Most people still identify with their mind. The way out of the house of mirrors seems to be to stop identifying with the ego/mind and to start identifying with God’s Spirit within, something easier said than done.

    We can empathize with that little puppy in the lap starting its grand adventure with more or less trepidation. We can imagine its anxiety, even fear, its curiosity, its growing new bonds, and project on out to caring for its needs and helping it to become trained in civilized behavior, all in the spirit of love. But we are not that puppy. Neither are we that complex of mind/body/ego we like to think of as ourselves.

    A start might be to step back and say, yes, that is myself but it’s not my Self. We can be responsible for taking care of our self as we take care of the puppy and watch it grow and hopefully find a little place of service in the world at large while its here. It’s not who I AM.

    • I remember someone saying of an aging saint who was growing forgetful, impatient, and cranky;

      “She is growing out of this cramped and crabbed world into a wider place. Her coordinates are shifting. Would you judge the butterfly by the struggles of the pupa? Yahweh has a war with Amalek to end of days. In the end, chaos flees before beauty.”

    • Amen!

  5. David Cornwell says

    As one gets older, memory does become an issue. Many little things, sometimes larger ones. Marge, my wife, has Parkinsons. Her form is is much milder in some ways, and the medications do a good job. But she recently changed neurologists. On her first visit he gave her some simple memory tests. She never does well under this kind of pressure, and this was no exception. So he sent her for some medical tests to determine if she has Alzheimers. I already knew the answer, but he didn’t ask me. So he scared the hell out of her for no reason. The medical tests were negative, but we had to wait for the answers.

    The thing is, he didn’t wait until he knew her. And each time she sees him now, it causes stress and tension

    Some doctors like to play “god.”

    But I love it that He (God) knows Marge, and He knows me. Comfort even if we lose our mind.

  6. Sometime I would like to know the difference between mind, soul, spirit. It probably doesn’t matter a lot and most of the time I don’t think about it. But sometimes when we talk about people losing their minds or their memory or their soul, I think, “What did we lose?” I think about people who have an out-of-body experience usually after some trauma to their body. They will talk about how they saw things in other parts of the hospital where they were not present. One person even saw something that had been tossed onto the roof of the hospital. What is it that “saw” these things? How were those things seen? What is it to “see?” All the cells of the brain will be replaced numbers of times as we live, but we still remember things that happened many years ago. So the memory is not wholly dependent upon the brain. Jesus’ body died, but he returned to his body and his body was transformed in some way. What is it that returned to his body? His soul? His spirit? Perhaps we can say the soul is the actual person. Perhaps we can say the spirit is the animating power giving life to the body and the soul. I know this is a bit off-topic, so feel free to delete it, Chaplain Mike.

  7. Christiane says

    I found these words to be so filled with meaning:
    “In the end, their minds weakened, rebelled or turned on them. Knowledge disappeared.

    But God did not. God knew them and God was with them.

    This is the Good News. We are privileged to know God, and he reveals himself to us. But the God we come to know releases us from the trap of holding onto knowledge as our salvation. He comes to us as a Father, lover, mediator, gracious and all-embracing savior.”

    I was reminded of a Lenten reflection by Father Mark,
    ‘On us He hath set His heart’:

    ” “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden”
    –Love’s invitation –
    “and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28).
    No crushing deity here.
    No annihilating power.
    Here lies bare the weakness of Love
    and the meekness of one Humble unto death.
    Love waits
    not for our gaze alone
    but for the “Yes” of hearts already claimed by Love.
    On us He hath set his heart,
    the Pierced One, the Victim and the Priest.
    Amen, Alleluia.”

    (a reflection from Father Mark, ‘Vultus Christi’ blog)
    http://vultus.stblogs.org/archives.html

    • “We are privileged to know God, and he reveals himself to us. But the God we come to know releases us from the trap of holding onto knowledge as our salvation. ”

      This! A thousand times this!