July 16, 2019

In The End, God Knows Us (A Meditation for Friends)

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…(Galatians 4:9a, English Standard Version)

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.

Paul 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?

Many 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 hear a beautiful and prayerful expression of what Paul is saying.)

Comments

  1. Yes.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank Robert Capon. When I realized this reading him, I wept for the first time in a long time. What we will eventually do is die in him. Why not start now, and see if we can get the rez started early?

  3. …………….i feel were on Holy Ground here.

  4. Flatrocker says

    Michael,
    Sometimes you are insightful, sometimes provocative and sometimes just downright confounding. There are also times when you are profoundly beautiful and this post is that time.

    I thank you for all of it – you have brought Him nearer to us all.

  5. Beautiful, Michael.

    This did remind me a little of Ecc 12:12 – ‘Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’

    I love reading, writing and studying. But it does pale in comparison to intimately resting in Him.

  6. You have been teaching Galatians so it must be fresh in your mind that dying in Him is the essence of living in Him. The center of the gospel.
    Thank you Michael for this beautiful meditation for this Sunday.
    This is my church home.

  7. This is the proper extension of your “you’ve got too much theology” premise. Excellent!

  8. I plan to forward this article to my minister.

    We need to stop trying to be Christian, holding on to the arrogance of our revealed religion and instead consider a Deist view, which limits knowledge of God to human understanding, which in and of itself is very limited when compared to the eternal Creator.

    That is not to say that scriptures do not hold truth, only that we should stop pretending to know the truth.

    It is Truth that knows us.

  9. Thank you.
    You brought to mind a man I knew, not a believer or a religious man, whose last days were spent drifting in and out of consciousness and full of profanity. I would not want my last time to be similar, but if it proves to be so, then I rest in Jesus, not in myself or in my knowledge.

    If God knows us (see Psalm 103), and knows that we are but dust and like the flowers of the field, then he knows us young and frail, as well as old and frail. He knows the desires that we have to follow him, and yet don’t because of our weaknesses and temptations.

    thank you again.

  10. Sometimes you just seem like a grouchy old man. Reading this reminds us that God is not done with you yet, you old softy. If you wrote more things like this, no one would hate you 😉

  11. God loves grouchy old men.

    And beware when all men speak well of you. 🙂

  12. That’s two in my favor. 🙂

  13. What am i to say. At 73 years into a very happy and i hope productive life i pine for the moment that i lay down in him and go home. Thank you.

  14. Thank you, Michael.
    I’m too prone to value the study over the Word Himself. You’ve reoriented me.

  15. JoanieD says

    I love Psalm 139, Michael. And I like what you have written here. What’s even more amazing about God knowing us is that he knows us and STILL loves us! I sometimes think how great it is that people cannot read our minds, because my thoughts are often unkind, totally unloving thoughts. I have taken to praying to God to protect anyone from any effects of my horrible thoughts. I know psychologists say it doesn’t matter what we think; it matters what we do. But I have to say that when I have these non-loving thoughts, it feels wrong to me and Jesus said a number of things that would indicate to me that it matters what our thoughts are. So, we truly do need the mind of Christ to be totally formed within us. Spend time in prayer to become more formed by the Holy Spirit. I have been letting these words of Jesus rest in me during prayer lately: “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me.” That is comforting, challenging, and so totally important.

  16. KR Wordgazer says

    You are a poet, iMonk, and your words have uplifted me.

    “Knowledge puffs up, but the Spirit gives life.”

  17. brings to mind this from J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God, one of my favorite things written anywhere,

    “What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it–the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

    This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort–the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates–in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.”

    from pages 41 and 42

  18. alvin_tsf says

    thank you so much for this. it is indeed overwhelming to know that we worship an awesome God. a God too large for us to comprehend.

    i was listening to a tim keller message last saturday, and he was talking about sabbath rest. more often, what we really need is to rest in Him. rest in His unfathomable wisdom that has chosen us in spite of who we are. rest in His power shown fully in Jesus Christ incarnation, cross and empty tomb that has swallowed up death to give us everlasting life. rest in His covenantal faithfulness to seek us out and to bring us into the fold. rest in His grace that continues to work in us that will not let us perish or be snatched away from His hand.

    what your friends went through is what a NYT article described as “the eternal murmur of self-reproach” that cries within us and will not let us rest.

    but thanks be to God! Yahweh, i know you are near…

    have a blessed day!

    alvin

  19. alvin_tsf says

    Rob,
    thanks for this..

    “All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me”

    that book of JI Packer really made a great impact in my walk with the Lord. that is one author who has a very high view of our Lord.

    thanks.

    alvin

  20. Wow! and Amen!

  21. As I use Examen as Meditation, or one kind of it, I find that I am moved to see the presence of God in all parts of my day, and his workings.

    In the past, I have turned Examen into self-criticism, but I just posted a friend’s conscious daily examen practice that leaves me encouraged and challenged, instead. (link above)

    I’ll happily return to this insightful blog.

    Blessings.
    Lisa

  22. imonk,

    Which of Capon’s writings were you reading when this hit you?

  23. Jim E: I’m not really sure. Maybe between Noon and Three. Maybe Money, Sex and Health. Maybe another one. They overlap enormously.

  24. iMonk – this past weekend, a middle-aged friend of mine developed an agressive infection, and due to other complications, in 24 hours he went from slightly ill to comatose. His vital organs have failed, his brain is now irreparably damaged, and he is being taken off of life support tomorrow. Our pastor had prayed that the Holy Spirit would commune with him even when our words could no longer reach him.

    Your essay has been a great encouragement at this time.