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!” .
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!