Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Knowing God: Knowing about God vs. Knowing God

I have been reading a book by formerly-sound Evangelical J.I. Packer entitled Knowing God — yes, his most famous book. Unfortunately, if you do not know it by now, Packer has severely compromised his witness for the Lord by being unequally yoked with the Roman heretics, with the signing of the documents ECT1 & 2. Nevertheless, this book is still an excellent book (a pity Packer does not practice what he preaches), and I have been greatly edified by it, especially during this time when I need to refocus myself on God.

In this post, I would just like to post some excerpts in the book between knowing about God and knowing God, and what are some of the marks of true Christians who truly know their God.

1. One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him.

... interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing Him. We may know as much about God as Calvin knew — indeed, if we study his works diligently, sonner or later we shall — and yet all the time (unlike Calvin, may I say) we may hardly know God at all

2. One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God.

It depends on the sermons one hears, the books one reads, and the company one keeps. ...

... it certainly makes it possible to learn a great deal at second-hand about the practice of Christianity. Moreover, if one has been given a good bump of common sense one may frequently be able to use this learning to help floundering Christians ..., and in this way one may gain for oneself a reputation for being quite a pastor. Yet one can have all this and hardly know God at all.


... when people know God, losses and 'crosses' cease to matter to them; what they have gained simply banishes these things from their minds. What other effect does knowledge of God have on a person? ... We may summarize.. in four propositions.

1. Those who know God have great energy for God.

In one of the prophetic chapters of Daniel we read: 'the people that know their God shall be strong, an do exploits' (11:32, KJV). RSV renders thus; 'the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.' In the context, this statement is introduced by 'but', and set in contrast to the activity of the 'contemptible person' (verse 21) who sets up 'the abomination that causes desolation', and corrupts by smooth and flattering talk those whose loyalty to God's covenant has failed (verse 31=-2). This shows us that the action taken by those who know God is their reaction to the anti-God trends which they see operating around them. While their God is being defiled or disregarded, they cannot rest; they feel they must do something; the dishonor done to God's name goads them into action.

These were four men [Daniel and his three friends] who knew God, and who in cosequence felt compelled from time to time actively to stand out against the conventions and dictates of irreligion and false religion. ...

Such gestues must not be misunderstood. It is not that Daniel, ..., was an awkward, cross-grained fellow who luxuriated in rebellion and could only be happy when he was squarely 'agin' the government. It is simply that those who know their God are sensitive to situations in which God's truth an honour are being directly or tacitly jeopardised, and rather than let the matter go by default will force the issue on men's attention and seek thereby to compel a change of heart about it — even at personal risk.

2. Those who know God have great thoughts of God.

There is not space enough here to gather up all that the book of Daniel tells us about the wisdom, might, and truth of the great God who rules history and shows His sovereignty in acts of judgment and mercy towards individuals and nations according to Hos own good pleasure. Suffice it [is] to say that there is, perhaps, no more vivid or sustained presentation of the many-sided reality of God's sovereignty in the whole Bible.

In face of the might and splendour of theBabylonain empire which had swallowed up Palestine, and the prospect of further great world-empires to follow, dwarfing Israel by every standard of human calculation, the book as a whole forms a dramatic reminder that the God of Israel is King of Kings and Lord or Lords, that 'Heaven rules' (4:26), that God's hand is on history at every point, that history, indeed, is no more 'His story', the unfolding of His eternal plan, and that the kingdom which will triumph in the end is God's.

.... He knows, and foreknows, all things, and His foreknowledge is foreordination; He, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man; His kingdom and righteousness will triumph in the end, for neither men nor angels shall be able to thwart Him.

Is this how we think of God? Is this the view of God which our own prayer expresses? Does this tremendous sense of His holy majesty, His moral perfection, and His gracious faithfulness keep us humble and dependent, awed and obedient, as it did Daniel? By this test, too, we may measure how much, or how little we know God.

3. Those who know God show great boldness for God.

Daniel and his friends were men who stuck their necks out. This was not foolhardiness. They knew what they were doing.They had counted the cost. They had measured the risk. They were aware what the outcome of their actions would be unless God miraculously intervened, as in fact He did.

But thse thngs did not move them. Once they were convinced that their stand was right, and that loyalty to their God required them to take it, then, in Oswald Chambers's phrase, they 'smilingly washed their hands of the consequences'. 'We must obey God rather than men!' said the apostles (Acts 5:2). 'Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy,' said Paul (Acts 20:24, KJV)

... It is the spirit of all who know God. They may find the determination of the right course to take agonisingly difficult, but once they are clear on it they embrace it boldly and without hesitation. It does not worry them that others of God's people see the matter differently, and do not stand with them. (Were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the only Jews who declined to worship Nebuchadnezzar's image? Nothing in their recorded words suggest that they either knew, or in the final analysis, cared. They were clear as to what they personally had to do, and that was enough for them.) By this test also we may measure our own knowledge of God.

4. Those who know God have great contentment in God.

There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship gurantees God's favour to them in life, through death, and on for ever.

This is the peace of which Paul speaks in Romans 5:1 .... and whose substance he analyses in full in Romans 8. ...

This is the peace which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew; hence the calm contenment with which they stood their ground in face of Nebuchadnezzar's ultimatum — 'If you do not worship [the image], you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?' Their reply (3:16-18) is classic. 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.' (No panic!) 'If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.' (Courteous, but unanswerable - they knew their God!) 'But even if He does not' — if no deliverance comes — 'we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods.' (It doesn't matter! It makes no difference! Live or die, they are content.)

The comprehensiveness of our contentment is another measure whereby we may judge whether we really know God.

[J. I. Packer (1973), Knowing God, 2nd Ed. with Study Guide (1993), p. 26-33]

Definitely, there is a lot for me personally to improve on. I have already decied earlier that I desired to know God, not primarily to know about God, and thus theological knowledge must be practical in the sense of leading to Christian growth and service (not only in terms of conduct alone, the so-called 'practical applications only, nothing too abstract — after all, what is the point of learning doctrines when you can't practically apply it' unbiblical view).

Anyway, for all of us, here are some truths which we should meditate on. Do we really know God? If so, are we passionate for the honor due to Him alone. If we are not, then can we be said to truly know God? (If p, then q; therefore If ~q, then ~p). Therefore, for those of you who are not interested in contending for the faith, in standing up against heresies, or worse still, attempting to silence those who do in the name of 'love', then I afraid you do not truly know and love God. Why is it that we would not take anyone insulting our parents without being at least upset over it (I hope you would not take such a thing lying down), but when God's name is blasphemed and His honor defiled, we who call ourselves Christians do not even bother to do anything, and sometimes we do not even care?

For the second point, what is our view of God? Do we continue to behold who God is continually day by day? I admit I oftentimes fall short, to my own shame, even though I shoud know better. Do we see God as who He truly is, and us as who we truly are in God's sight? Do we feel awed by the thrice-holy God and know that we cannot stand in front of Him due to our sins? Do we fear God? If we continue to treat God so flippiantly, just like our pal or like our girl/boyfriend, or like a genie who will grant all our wishes, then we do not know God. I'm grieved that this is so in most of the churches, unfortunately: BOTH conservative and charismatic; BOTH reformed and arminian. May God have mercy on us all.

The third point is definitely something which we all need to work on. Years of compromise of having women in leadership positions and in the pulpits have destroyed the churches. Instead of the Church Militant, we have the Church Effeminate, never wanting to offend anyone (well, except her Lord maybe). All the spineless ministers without backbone to stand up against worldliness, the enroachment of heresy into the churches! We have few godly men nowadays who are serious in following Christ whatever the cost. So, for us, do we want to truly know God? Then we must regain what has been lost, the boldness to stand for Christ whatever the cost may be, even though sometimes we might even be opposed by those who call themselves our brethren. Granted, all of us do fail sometimes, but we should work towards having this boldness in Christ, for perfect love cast out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

The fourth point is something we all struggle with, especially those of us in developed countries. We are fuller materially, yet empty spiritually. Sometimes I do desire to visit churches undergoing persecution. We have forgotten what it is to be content in our Lord, by and large. Instead, we follow our culture's obsession for new things, new stuff, new discoveries whatever, wich we are soon bored of and replaced with even later stuff. As Christians, we should learn how to be content with what our Lord gives us. Yes, it is not easy, but let us strive towards that end, for this is Christ's will for us who have been regenerated and adopted into His glorious Kingdom of light.

1 comment:

casebo said...

Great post! And thanks again for the comment and congratulations you left on my blog! I really appreciated that. I'm still being edified by your blog...keep up the good work...and enjoy the Lord on your mission trip.