“Knowing versus knowing about” [J.I. Packer, Knowing God]. This section of Knowing God really means something to me and I am inclined to share. Sometimes, I get very personal about what I am reading. I sometimes pass along my experience as a way of explaining the author’s intent.
Packer says: “One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him” that sounds so peculiar to me.
How can one know a great deal about God and not know Him?
I have two experiences that illustrate: one from my life and one that I know from a friend who shared his experience with me.
As a very young man I found myself reading many books about the American Civil War and World War II. To this day, I am still fascinated about what makes a person sacrifice so much for their beliefs, their country. I would read those books and I would visualize the experiences of the soldiers, which would lead me to a fascination about the clothes that they wore, the weapons the used and even the ground they fought on. I wanted to know as many specifics as I could about the lives of men at war. I wanted to know about their sacrifice. I would visit museums dedicated to both wars, I would take battleground tours. For the Civil War, I even attended three reenactments. There I got to see people living the time period as accurately as they could. The more I could see the soldier’s experience, feel the soldier’s experience and smell the soldier’s experience, the better I began to understand.
Then came college.
I went off to college and had to declare a major, so naturally that major would be history. I anticipated even greater in-depth knowledge about my “favorite” wars. But much to my amazement, my classes were pretty dull because the reading assignments were dull and the lectures were dull. Suddenly I was thrust into a world of historical experts commenting on the battles, explaining many views about the experience of warfare in general. Their attitude was omniscient, having great knowledge of the generals, troop movements and the overall purpose for the conflict. I no longer could visualize the soldier’s experience; he did not matter anymore. Large movements of battalions, brigades and divisions were all that mattered. The soldier became a speck in a much larger, more complex picture.
I knew a great deal about the American Civil War and World War II without much knowledge of the experience of the individual soldiers.
They were lost.
I have a friend who struggled in life; it is not important to detail his struggles but to understand, he could not relate well to people due to anger, frustration and a desire to control others. Then people came into his life who modeled the Christian lifestyle. Slowly but surely he began to question them about their behavior and he began to learn about Christian beliefs. Eventually he caught on in a big way and he fell in love with Jesus Christ. He knew his life had taken a turn for the better and he made a lifetime commitment to Jesus. I know him today, thirty-five years later and he is still living what I would call a righteous life, striving to do better in his service for his Lord and Master.
A few years after making his commitment, he decided to enroll in seminary. While there, he did well in his classes but something happened. As he tells it, “The more I learned about God, the further God was from me.”
To make a long story short, he left seminary training before completion of a degree.
I don’t advocate not learning about God. Wouldn’t that be absurd on a blog dedicated to commenting on Christian literature? I love discussing God, learning about Him and how to live a more righteous life. Yet there can be a cost.
One runs the risk of moving further from the very personal experience of the exercise of one’s faith.
To live a life with Christ is to live what Packer calls an “unfettered” life, a life that is open to the leading of The Holy Spirit. He also says this: “those who have known God are rare among us—rarer perhaps than they are in some other Christian circles where, by comparison, evangelical truth is less clearly and fully known….a little knowledge of God [can be] worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him.”
Packer knows that the Christian life is characterized by gaiety, goodness and just pure joy. It is sometimes a simple response to God’s call, no overthinking, no head knowledge, just a heart that is open to the urging of The Holy Spirit. God is not lost in the clutter of prideful Christian formulas that we can rattle off on command. It does no good to point to the books we have read about God and no good to explain the theological perspectives we know. It only matters that we are listening for His directions and when we hear them…
For the person who truly knows God the answer to His call is not “I will think about it Lord.”
Here is the right answer.