The Greatest Difficulty

“Thoughtful people find the gospel of Jesus Christ hard to believe, for the realities with which it deals pass our understanding”[J.I. Packer, 52].*

One might think that one of the real stumbling blocks is that Jesus hung on the cross and bore man’s sins.  How did He do that and that act impact our sins today?

If that is not it, maybe it is the resurrection.  Jesus rose physically from the dead.  I have read numerous theories calling the resurrection into question—resuscitation after a faint or perhaps someone stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.  There are several rational explanations that do not require faith.

Possibly the virgin birth is a problem for intelligent doubters; they just can’t believe that such a biological event could have occurred.  It is too far from science. 

The miracles seem too hard for many, the walking on water, feeding five thousand or raising the dead.  These are incredible stories for many, too incredible for belief.

But no, the biggest mystery that people cannot accept is not any of the above, it the incarnation.  Christians claim that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man; the second person of the Godhead was born a human without loss of His deity. 

This makes two mysteries that people struggle with, “the plurality of persons within the unity of god, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus” [53].  In John 1:14, it says the “Word became flesh” and that means that there was no deception about this: there was a real baby in that manger, staring, wiggling, making noises, needing to be fed and taught to talk like any other human child.  “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”

John says four times in the first three chapters of his gospel that the Baby in the manger was “the Son,” not “a” son.  He is trying to make a point that this Baby was unique, the only begotten, the one and only Son of God. 

Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses are groups that take this idea and posit that the birth of Jesus means that there are two Gods, instead of one.  Packer digs into the Gospel of John to explain this problem and how John confronts it.  The writer John knew that the phrase “Son of God” would cause misleading associations within the minds of contemporary readers.  Jewish theology predicted that the Messiah would be a “Son of God.”  Greek mythology told of many “sons of gods” born between a god and a human.  Neither the Jews nor the Greeks attributed deity to the offspring between a God [for the Jews] and god [for the Greeks] and a human woman.

The famous first eighteen verses of John 1 are written the way they are to solidify the idea that the baby in the manger was God.  “In the beginning was the Word” is a clear statement that when things began, Jesus was there.  “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made”. 

There is a lot in those words, when you stop and meditate on them.  “The Word was with God” means that the Word has a personality, a power that fulfills God’s purposes and stands in eternal relation to God.

The “word was God” highlights the deity of Jesus, not only being a human, but also possessing divinity, as God the Father has. 

“Through Him all things were made” is a creating phrase.  Everything His Father has made, Jesus was there creating also.  “All that was made was made through Him” [Packer, 56]. 

“In Him was life” is a phrase pinpointing that Jesus was part of animating life.  Not only was Jesus there when things were made originally, but in the continuing of life in all its forms, Jesus will be there also. He will be involved in future life.

That life was the “light of men” reveals that in giving life, Jesus is giving light to the world.  People who are alive in this world have “intimations of God” and those intimations are due to the work of the Word in their lives, the work of Jesus in their lives.  “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

It is not until verse fourteen that John expresses “the Word became flesh.”  That baby in the manger was none other than the eternal Word of God.  Now as Packer writes, John “has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God.  The Son of God is the Word of God.  We see what the Word is; well, that is what the Son is.”  Such is the message of the first eighteen verses of the book of John. 

The biggest mystery that people cannot accept may be the incarnation, but as Packer says “once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties [atonement, resurrection, virgin birth and miracles] dissolve.”

Once that reality is grasped, one can experience the Light, the brightness that emanates from that little Baby in the manger.

From his book Knowing God

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Obscuring His Glory…Read His Word…

“Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God.” J.I. Packer Knowing God.

I have had this portion of Chapter 4 on my mind so much.  The Second Commandment, that man “shalt not make unto thee any graven image” is the main focus of the chapter and it is a hard idea to grasp, especially for many Christians who seem to need images to know God.

One day, my pastor walked into our prayer group at church and gave me an object, an image of a cross on a prayer coin.  This past Sunday a man came to the prayer rail at church and on the way back to his seat he made a concerted effort to look at the large cross, expended from the ceiling of the church.  When I sing in the choir, a beautiful stained glass window is right above me, a telling of the story of Jesus the Son in glass, with a crib-manger containing straw and a sunflower.  The Greek letter X (Chi) and P (Rho) represent Christ.  A staff representing  shepherds; a star and three crowns representing the wise men.  All images.

Packer knows his view of Christian images of God and His Son Jesus is not popular.  “A steady trickle of letters over the years has urged that my dissuasive from using images of God for didactic or devotional purposes goes too far” [Packer, 50].

People who dislike his position point out that the worship of God requires artistic expression through the visual arts.  It is just like moral expression of Christianity through family love and neighborly love.   The use of artistic images is a natural outflow from worship.  The use of imagination is a part of human nature and God made man to imagine and create (yes, even images of God and His Son Jesus are human creations).  The third argument against Packer is that images do trigger a devotional response, some saying that their faith would not be as strong without them.

His response focuses on the transcendence of God the Creator, who is “mysterious and inscrutable, beyond the range of any imagining or philosophical guesswork of which we are capable” [Packer, 48].  Packer takes Isaiah literally: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” [Isaiah 55].

Ok, but we are left with a problem.  What do we do when we want to have thoughts of God or Jesus; we would like to have a mental representation?  Where is our source of inspiration about God and Jesus if our images are not good enough? 

Here is the source.

God’s word and God’s word alone.

If one believes Packer is right, that God is not the type of person that we are, “His vison, His aims, His scale of values, His mode of procedure differ so vastly from our own that we could not possibly guess our way to them by intuition or infer them by analogy from our notion of ideal manhood” then what are we to do to get to know Him?

We can’t know Him unless He speaks and tells us about Himself.

He has done that already, through His prophets, His apostles and the words and deeds of His only Son.  Our revelation, our inspiration, our mental stimulation (if you will) should come only from His word, our Bible.  “The positive force of the second commandment is that it compels us to take our thoughts of God from His own Holy Word and from no other source whatsoever” [Packer, 48].

Why does God seem so concerned about people using visible images, concerned to the point that He is jealous?  Packer thinks that manmade images are just “stock-in-trade” representations from a sinful and ungodly world.  Images are a poor substitute for the mental images that can generate from the reading, study and meditation of God’s word.

At the risk of being too simple, let me see if I can explain this idea in another way.  Granted, for many people, reading is difficult.   It requires time to do it.  It requires you to sit down.  It requires concentration.   I was conversing recently with a man who admits to having difficulty sitting in one spot for any length of time.  He can’t rest.  He sees jobs that must be done.  He has to get up and do something.  Reading is just too much commitment to staying in one place.

Tapping into the source that we have [God’s word] takes time and many today don’t seem to have the time to devote to this activity.

What happens when we read?  Our minds are free to imagine. 

Some people would argue that our imaginations are flawed.  Too often a western Christian will imagine a Jesus who looks like us [e.g. white complexion with long hair and a beard] but none of us really know what Jesus looked like.  His apostles don’t tell us; even Jesus’ brother James and Jude don’t tell us.  Actually we are left to our own imaginations.  

Packer’s point is that as we read, God speaks to us through our reading, our minds.  Maybe if our reading moves us emotionally, God speaks to us through our hearts.  This is the purest way to know God, free of images that can get between us and our thoughts about Him.

This example may not serve well, but I am going to use it.  During my lifetime I have read books that captured my imagination.  I have gone to places and I have seen things in my mind.  I have spent time with “real” people; I can describe them, their faces, their height, their clothing, their smell etc.   I have created them in my mind.

I have also seen books turned into movies (as have you).  I don’t know how many times I have gone away from a movie saying “that’s not the way I saw that book in my mind.”  The movie took my imaginings away from me and substituted an interpretation from an actor and a movie director.   The movie got in the way of my own mental creation. 

Even though this is a simpler explanation, I think this is what J.I. Packer is saying in his argument for strict adherence to the second commandment.  Don’t get hung up on images and let them substitute for the real thing…God’s word.  Don’t skip the real source of knowing God, which is the Bible.  Today we have an expression for the activity of not reading a longer book; we say “I’ll wait for the movie.”

Don’t wait for the movie.

Get into God’s word and make your own movie.

Let His word inspire you, shape you, guide you…because it will.  I have admitted above that Packer’s staunch stand on the second commandment has been hard for me, like it is hard for many Christians.  Sometimes I have to supplement my ideas about Packer with outside sources because his book is so challenging.  I ran across a short story in a source* that may be a nice way to close this post.   It is the story of Preena, a young Indian girl who found Christ while living in an orphanage run by missionary Amy Carmichael.  Miss Carmichael had a habit of praying that the Holy Spirit show Jesus to each of the children in her orphanage.  One day Preena received a package from abroad.  She opened it and eagerly pulled out a picture of Jesus.  Preena did not know who it was and she was told it was Jesus.  She burst into tears.  Miss Carmichael was moved.   She thought that the Holy Spirit was involved in this incident.  The crying continued and got even more emphatic.  Eventually she asked Preena what was wrong…why can’t you quit crying?  Preena’s response seems to say it all:  “I am heartbroken; I thought he was far more beautiful than that.”

*from the website  “Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?” gotquestions.org

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Obscuring His Glory*

You have a picture of Jesus hanging on your wall.  Maybe it is not a picture; maybe it is a crucifix.  When you pray, your mind drifts away to a certain godly man or woman who has inspired you; someone who has encouraged you to be a more righteous person.  You kinda associate that inspirational person with God, even though they are not God.

What’s the problem?  You feel that all these practices help your faith, you are more encouraged to pray, you have better focus and maybe these items and ideas cause you to have a more effective walk with God, a closer relationship with His son Jesus Christ.

And then you read in J.I. Packer’s book ,“the likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars) and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects) and in the sea (fish, mammals, crustaceans) is precisely not a likeness of their Creator.”  Then to add fuel to the fire, he pulls out John Calvin, “A true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence…His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, wherever He is set before our eyes in visible form…to devise any image of God is impious.”

That picture, that crucifix and those inspiring people…

Not good?

Idolatry in Exodus 20: 35 means that we should have no other gods [little g] before us.  Anything in heaven above or beneath the waters below.  God is a jealous God, punishing His children for the sin of idolatry.  Idolatry means anything that replaces the one true God.  The fascinating thing about this commandment is that as Moses was receiving it, Aaron had fashioned the golden calf and the people were worshipping the calf when Moses arrived with the Commandments.  The history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament is one big long story of a people who could not keep from following false gods.  It is not an exaggeration to say that they broke this Commandment more than any other.  They were not to even mention the names of false gods.  They were not to intermarry with other cultures because intermarriage brought the danger of worshipping false gods.  Yet Jewish history is a sad chronicle of idol worship, punishment, restoration, forgiveness followed by a return to idolatry.

Surely a picture on the wall, a crucifix and a thought about a righteous person is not idolatry.

It depends…

If a faithful Christian truly thinks the objects and the person are holy, then that is where Packer finds fault.  A two-dimensional image of God or Jesus is never holy.  A three dimensional crucifix is never holy.  Positive thoughts about a real person are just that, positive thoughts.  That person is not really holy.

God is holy. 

Packer’s position is that anything that substitutes for the true God can corrupt one’s faith and can adulterate the all-powerful nature of our Creator. 

This is a simple example but it may help us understand.  I was conversing with a man just the other day and he said that he enjoyed his trip to the Grand Canyon.  Then I asked how he would describe it.  He is a talkative person, never at a loss for words, but he was truly experiencing a “loss for words.”  He could not describe the grandeur that he experienced.  It overwhelmed him. 

This is the crux of Packer’s thought on this matter.  Yes, people point to Genesis and argue that we are made in God’s image.  But then look in Psalms and see that His creation declares His glory [19: 1-2].  John 1:5 says Christ is “the light” of the world.  John 6 says that Jesus is the “bread of life” and later the water that quenches our thirst.  Revelation declares Jesus the “spotless lamb.”  Want more confusion?  The author and perfecter of our faith; the way, the truth, the life; the very image of the invisible God.  Can you put these things on a wall?

Packer writes “images dishonor God, for they obscure His glory.”  After much thought, the focus of his comment is not on the wrong we are doing. It is that we are trying to put “God in a box” and He is much, much more.  We may think we are helping our faith with our images but God is far more than we can imagine and we should let Him be who He is…

Not shrink Him to fit…

Isaiah 40: 18 is a Scripture that declares God’s immeasurable greatness.  It says “To whom, then will you compare God?  What image will you compare Him to?”  Packer says that question does not expect an answer, only chastened silence.  It’s purpose is to remind us that it is impious to think that any image could capture the majesty and glory of God.

The image on the wall, the crucifix and the thought of the inspirational friend are not bad, as long as the faithful worshipper realizes that these images are only images, not real substitutes for our God and His son Jesus.  Idolatry is a matter of the mind, a matter of the heart. 

No true believer should give his mind and heart away to an image.

Remember, “He is the Lord your God”…

Much, much more than an image…

*My apologies for this late post.  This topic has been so difficult for me.  Packer’s hardline position on this subject has been hard for me to grasp.  My role in writing about Christian literature is not necessarily to believe the writer, it is merely to report what the writer has said and to make it easier for the reader to understand.  My thinking is that small chunks of information may help inspire someone to think about their faith, rather than a three-hundred page book which is more than some want to digest.  It has taken me multiple readings and hours of thought to figure how to write on Packer’s trouble with Christian imagery, especially imagery depicting God and His Son Jesus Christ.  I don’t have a problem with this practice as many Christians don’t. Finally I understand what his position is and that is why you see this post. Again apologies for the lateness.

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Extreme Position or Reasonable Position?

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” [Exodus 20: 4-5].

I have always read the Second Commandment as a strong admonition to not bow down to gods other than Jehovah, you know, a god like Baal, some golden calf, some statue in a Hindu temple or some pagan god in a Greek or Roman temple.

That is not what J.I. Packer* thinks.

Packer writes “idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images.  In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the triune God, or of any person in the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship” [Packer, 43].

He means pictures of Christ or God, crucifixes, statues, ornaments that represent God, stained glass representations of God or Jesus…we could go on and on.

Really?

Some readers may not like this.  The attitude is “what harm is it if I think of God or Jesus as a man?”   “I can pray better if I think I am praying to someone.”  “When I see God as a kind, white-haired, bearded man looking down on me, I can feel more religious.” “A crucifix makes me think of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.”

I have to admit that my early thoughts about God were shaped by pictures on the wall of the First Christian Church in Marion, Kentucky.  Every Sunday I went to Sunday school and there He was, His head was cocked to the side.  He had a pleasant look on His face and He was admiring the work He had done; the trees, the animals and the humans were down below his outstretched arms.   It was comforting.

Then why such a hardline stand?  “There is no room for doubting that the Commandment [the Second] obliges us to dissociate our worship, both in public and in private, from all pictures and statues of Christ, no less than from pictures and statues of His Father” [Packer, 45].

To add fuel to the fire, Packer says a close reading of the Second Commandment highlights that God is a jealous God and anyone who has studied the Bible knows that God can be very severe in punishing transgressors. Do we really want to suffer His wrath?

Some Christians want to see pictures of God and Jesus, and they use the book of Genesis as their support.   Genesis Chapters 1-11:  “And God said let us make man in our image….And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them [from 26-28].  Further along in Chapter 5, the Bible says “In the likeness of God He made him” [Adam].    In Genesis 9:6 the writer of Genesis relates “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

Aren’t these all references which tie man’s human image to the image of God?  If so, why can’t we assume that a humanlike picture of God is appropriate?

But Packer would respond, let’s look at this part of the Second Commandment and read it slowly:  “Thou shalt not make any likeness of anything for use in worship.”  Any and anything are pretty definitive words.  Any refers to even a reverent picture of God.  Any refers to a crucifix that represents Jesus’ sacrifice.  Yes “any” refers to that benevolent God hanging on my childhood Sunday school wall. 

I have never really considered the down side of imagining our earthly father as heavenly Father until recently.  In the approach to Father’s Day, I had an opportunity to hear three women tell me about how human fathers got in the way of surrendering their lives to Christ.  One woman [my best friend] said that she had problems with accepting God as benevolent and forgiving because her father was not that way in her home.  She never felt that her earthly father loved her, or at least he never showed her love.

Two other women told more extreme tales.   Both were physically abused in their homes by fathers who had to have control.  In one case, the father suffered from alcoholism; he was the one who used a belt to minister frequent, underserved punishment.

It was not hard to see that earthly representations of a Godly father were problematic for all three women.  Does the same apply to images that we all see?

Here is what Packer says: 1. images dishonor God, for they obscure His glory; 2. images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God.

In upcoming posts we will explore both assertions. 

At that point we will hopefully be able to know how we feel about Packer’s view of images of God. 

Extreme position or reasonable position…

*from his book Knowing God

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God Knows Me???

Knowing God…

When you consider the title of J.I. Packer’s book, it sounds like a believer is trying to do all the knowing, but Packer* flips this around at the end of Chapter 3.  God knows us.  God knows me.

Why is that a big deal?

Packer says that there are three ways He knows us.

First, there is the matter of our heart, our personal desire to really know God on a practical level.  What he means is the hunger a person has to dedicate himself or herself to Biblical study.  Most people probably assume that the trained theologian has the advantage in God knowledge, or at least the pastor who has been to seminary.  They must know it all. That is not what he is referring to; he is referring to the “simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit.”  That person is the one who can develop a true practical application of God’s truth to their life, and God knows it.

I am a Methodist.  A perfect example of this is the “accidental” founder** of the Methodist Church, John Wesley.  Wesley was truly intelligent.  His father was an Anglican priest and he was trained to be one too.  He knew all about God and what God’s people should be doing to further His Kingdom here on earth.  But in his days of training for assuming his post and even his early life as a Priest, he knew he was missing something.  He had theological knowledge but he did not have practical heart knowledge of God.  For example, when traveling to America from England, his ship was in a horrible storm and he saw people of a different faith endure the storm with prayer, while he had great fear and very little resolve.   He knew he had a dedication to his Lord and Savior but he did not give his heart to God.  He did not experience that until later in life.  He worked hard in his studies at Oxford and he worked hard to preach God’s Word, but knowledge and hard work are not enough.  Packer says people like this “have the right notions in [their] head without tasting in [their] heart the realities to which they refer.”

God know us.  He knows me.  The level of heart I have for Him, the level of practical application I have for His truth.

Secondly, God knows our personal involvement.  Packer uses the example of friendship to illustrate this idea.  When people get to know each other, they share; they are open with each other.  As friendship develops, attitudes are examined and an effort is made to determine what the two friends have in common.  The more you open yourself up to your friend, the more you become emotionally involved with their concerns; you begin to feel for each other.  You are concerned for each other.  You are involved in the life of another. 

Too often emotion is denigrated as a lesser way to experience God.  Packer says this is rooted in the idea that an emotional believer is too self-absorbed to know God on a deep level.  I am going to use a personal example to explain how emotional connection is not bad.  I have been in love two times in my life.   The first time was with my girlfriend Susan, who later became my wife.  When I “fell” in love with her, I thought about her almost every waking moment of every day.  I was fascinated with everything about her as I had experience after experience trying to get to know her more.   The more I learned about her, the more I was happy to have a relationship with her.  I thought she was special [she still is].  Packer speaking of this emotional attachment to God: “knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so.  The believer is, and must be, emotionally involved in the victories and vicissitudes of God’s cause in the world.”  The stronger the friendship with God, the stronger the commitment to God’s Kingdom. 

God know us. God knows me. He knows the second time I fell in love was with His son Jesus Christ.

Lastly there is this matter of grace.  We seek to make friends with God but that is really not how it works.  God makes friends with us, “bringing us to know Him by making His love known for us”.  Grace is fundamental to our relationship with God, because He knows we are not capable of living a sinless life.  I know it is almost like the Christmas song lyrics “you have to be good for goodness sake.”  Why?   Because Santa knows whether we have been good boys or good girls and if we have been bad…well you know the reward under the Christmas tree will be meagre.  God knows all the times that we fall short of His Glory but He loves us anyhow.  He sent His Son to earth to redeem us from our sinful lives.  That’s how much He loves us.  Packer writes “God has taken the initiative in loving, choosing, redeeming, calling and preserving.”  He knows us through and through.  We have an imperfect knowledge of Him, but He certainly does not have an imperfect knowledge of us.  In Jeremiah, God says He knew us before we were formed in the womb.  In John, Jesus says that He is the good Shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep, His sheep listen to Him,  His sheep know Him. 

Because we are sinners, we need His saving mercy; we need His grace.

God knows us.  God knows me.  He knows I have sinned, I am sinning and I will sin, but He loves me anyhow.

Packer says there is “unspeakable comfort” in God’s knowledge of our heart for Him, the practical application of his Word.  He also says that our emotional attachment for God, our love and commitment to our Godly relationship is comforting as well as the grace He extends for our sin-filled lives.

Yes, Packer’s book is entitled Knowing God but God certainly knows us.  He certainly knows me.  What Packer writes about himself applies to me.  “Based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst 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.”

This energizes me, knowing that God is constantly knowing me and loving me at the same time.  It is not enough that we know God; it is extremely important for Him to know us.

He does know us.

He does know me.

And He is determined to bless us all…praise God! 

*J.I. Packer, Knowing God

**No time to explain Wesley’s accidental founding of the Methodist Church.

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When Jesus’ Voice is Heard…

“The Bible puts flesh on these bare bones of ideas by using pictures and analogies.”*

Stop for a minute and think about that.  Would we understand the Bible without some of the word pictures that are in The Book.  Probably not.

An analogy is the comparison of two things using like or as.  A simple non-biblical analogy example is saying this about your clumsy friend Harry:  having Harry handle delicate collectibles when moving is a bad idea; he is like a bull in a china shop.  You get the point [comparing clumsy human to bull].

But let’s get into the Bible a bit.  Packer writes about how man knows God.  We know God like a son knows his father.  We know God like a wife knows her husband.  We know God like a subject knows his king and we know God like a sheep knows his shepherd.

All analogies.

As in a previous post about us having a royal as a friend, note that all analogies are what Packer calls “knower ‘looks up’ to the one known”.  Also Packer calls attention to the fact that the “one known” is responsible for the welfare of the knower.  It is amazing to consider what the analogies imply.

Knowing God can also be through knowing Jesus.  Certainly there are Scriptures that insist that the way to know God is to know Jesus.  In the book of John, famous Scriptures like “Don’t you know me…?  Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” and “no one comes to the Father except through Me” state that very fact.

For Christians living in the world today, knowing Jesus is our ticket to know God.  In Jesus’ day, the twelve disciples knew Jesus directly and as they spent time with Him, they began to know He was “The Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus was the man born to be King, the bearer of “the words of eternal life” [John 6: 68].  They knew they were in the presence of someone special and that knowledge transformed their lives.

We don’t have Jesus today; we have the Gospels to tell us about Jesus and our distance from Jesus’ life is actually an advantage.  Packer writes that our knowledge of the significance of the risen Christ means that Jesus is “loose and large.”  I think he is really saying that Jesus came to earth on a mission and He accomplished it.  He tore the veil on the Holy of Holies and made us direct communicators with God. The veil was a symbol of the separation of God from sinful mankind.  It marked the boundary between God’s pure holiness and the wickedness of mankind.  The veil’s being torn, by God Himself, symbolized the fact that mankind’s separation from God had been removed by Jesus’ supreme sacrifice at Calvary. 

It also meant that even though we cannot have a physical relationship with Jesus, we can certainly have a spiritual one.  Christians can read the New Testament and know the truth about God and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus which the original disciples grasped only gradually, over a period of years.  Jesus can use “fresh words” with us by applying to our consciences those words of His that are recorded in the Gospels.  In short, Jesus walks with us now through the Gospel story: Packer writes “going with Him involves going with Him, now as then.”

Jesus says in John 10: 27 “My sheep listen to My voice.  I know them and they follow Me.”  In 5: 23-24 He says “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life.”

Today we don’t have the honor of being able to walk with a physical Jesus but maybe we have more.  We have a perspective that the Disciples did not have and we have word pictures and analogies to help us understand His ideas.

When we accept the claims that Jesus makes and believe His promises and trust in His call, we actually “hear” Jesus.  At that point He becomes our Shepherd and we become His trusting sheep.  John 10: 27-28 claims “I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” 

Can you imagine a shepherd saying that to his sheep?  Can you imagine a more beautiful word picture or analogy than that?

When you “hear” Jesus and know Jesus, you are saved by Him, now and in the hereafter, from the sins we all commit, from the guilt of those sins and finally we are saved from death by His promise of eternal life.

Believe the claims, serve the Lord and live the wonderful life He intended you to live.

From J.I. Packer Knowing God

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God, our Very Special Friend…

The further I went in my studies at the university, I found myself “specializing” in particular aspects of speech communication.  That is just what happens when one begins advanced study of a subject; it is the common pattern.  What got me to graduate school is the feeling that I did not know much about the process of making a speech to a group of people and my college asked me to teach speech communication.  I felt unqualified.  The further I went in graduate study, I began to move away from that type of communication to one-to-one communication [called interpersonal communication].   I did not get dismayed.  I could see that interpersonal communication is extremely useful, whereas speech communication knowledge is important when you know you are going to make a speech.  Interpersonal communication is used many times in a day, sometimes all day [depending on your life circumstances]. 

One aspect of this special type of interaction is the making of friends.  Yes, believe it or not, communication scholars have studied this process.   They have made it a “thing” to study, a process that can be broken down into phases.

When Packer writes in Chapter Three about knowing God, he compares knowing God to knowing a house or knowing a book [more of a contrast than a comparison].   Knowledge of inanimate objects is real but those kinds of objects don’t change quickly and of course they don’t think.  If you know a house, it is probably not going to change much and you can go back to it and you can navigate in it again.   Unless a book goes into a new, revised edition or is physically destroyed, your knowledge of it is still relevant.   You have gained something from it and you can share with others what the book has taught you.  If the book is not physically destroyed, you can go back to it and consult it or reread it.

When he shifts his attention to “higher life forms” such as a horse, things get much more complex.   Certainly horses can change their behavior and they often do under certain circumstances.   It is said that to “know” a horse is to spend so much time with it that you begin to develop a history with the animal; you can predict what it will do based on your time spent with it, your knowledge of its behavior.   This probably could hold true for all animals–cats, snakes, turkeys etc. etc.

But let’s turn our attention to people, the most complex of creatures and the most studied when it comes to communication and making friends.  There is a common communication theory to explain friendship that breaks down friendship into two factors—breadth and depth.  Breadth refers to the amount of time that you know a person, the longer you have known them, the more “history” you have with them and the more you can determine their patterns of behavior.  Depth refers to the degree that they have shared private information with you.  “Close” friends are those who have shared.   You can have breadth with the clerk at your local grocery if you have been going there for a number of years and they check your groceries.  You don’t have depth with them because they are not sharing their private information with you and you are not sharing back.  They are merely providing a service.  Depth is special.  It is a decision to share private information with someone else, information that not everyone knows.  When you share this information, you calculate how much you can share and you hope that the other person is open to sharing with you.  Sharing too much private information too quickly can ruin a relationship [i.e. the TMI phrase, too much information].  Not sharing enough can stall a relationship.  When you share and it is appropriate, you trust another person to not share that information with others.  In short, a trust bond is created and the chance for a friendship is real if that bond is honored.

Packer writes about a friendship with a person with an elevated status [he calls it rank, intellectual distinction, professional skill or personal sanctity].  For example maybe the “friend” is the Prince of Wales.  You would like to get to know him but since you feel inferior, the offer of friendship is for him to decide.   If the Prince does not want to be friends, you may feel disappointment but due to the status difference, you will not likely complain.

This type of friendship is not ordinary since the status of the participants is not equal.  Imagine the Prince needing to share confidence with you, to spend time with you in mutual activities, the Prince wants to help you and he expresses his need for your expertise.  Packer writes this: “you would feel enormously privileged.”

He says this may be the closest we can illustrate knowing God using human examples.  Packer uses a verse from Jeremiah, “Let him that glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me,” for knowing me is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart.

Using God as our example now, what happens if God comes to you through His Word and talks to you through the words in His Holy Scripture?  You have read the Bible before but now you have a serious need and that need has created a deep understanding.  You begin to understand your sins, your guilt, your weakness, your blindness and your follies.  You understand yourself to be hopeless and you cry out to God for forgiveness.  He is your superior and you need Him for living a better life.

You come to realize that you can listen to God, as you begin to understand that He is opening His heart to you, making friends with you as you begin to love Him more than you like your sin nature.  Packer likens your benefit here as the benefit Joseph received from Pharaoh when he took Joseph from the jail cell to become his prime minister.  Everyone on earth is Satan’s prisoner until you realize that God is offering the keys to your cell.  Trust in Him and serve Him.  Your life will be transformed. 

You become a servant but think whose servant you are.  You belong to God.  Knowing the Prince of Wales is one thing but knowing God is so much better.  Packer writes “How much more should it be a matter of pride and glorying to know and serve the Lord of heaven and earth!” [37].

Let’s say the offer of friendship is not from the Prince of Wales.  Let’s say the offer is from God.  What does the activity of knowing God entail?  First, reading God’s Word and listening to the words through our Holy Spirit.  Not only reading but receiving His Word.   Second, taking time to pay attention to God’s nature and character.  His Word reveals that.  Third, accepting His invitation to act on His behalf and doing what He requests.  Fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that He has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.

Certainly knowledge of things is good, knowledge of animals is good, developing friendships is important and if one is so privileged, having a friend who is a “royal” is special.  But nothing, I repeat nothing is more special that knowing God.  That is the point that Packer is trying to make.

This is so special and yet it is in reach of all us humans, to give our heart to The Lord and dedicate our lives in His Service.

I am reminded of the classic hymn penned in 1855 by the Irishman Joseph Scriven.  I close with the lyrics here.

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!

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