When it comes to knowing Christ and for that matter knowing God, it’s important to distinguish who’s doing the knowing and to what end. It’s one thing to have knowledge from an intellectual standpoint – quite another to have knowledge from an experiential standpoint. It’s possible to know about God and/or Christ from what the Bible says and what scholars have written regarding them. It’s certainly different to know them from a faith-based position. As Jesus said, “This is eternal life that they (the 12 disciples) may know you (God) and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).” In Peter’s memorable confession, “You are the Christ of God” it’s clear that Peter had not just come to a head knowledge of who Jesus was, but a heart knowledge as well. It would also be good to note that Peter’s confession was not couched in personal terms, “we’ve invited you into our heart as Lord and Savior”; “We accept you as our Savior”; or anything of the sort. He made a confession of Jesus’ role. Jesus was the Messiah of God.
Note – we cannot know God from a faith-based position without knowing Christ. We cannot know Christ unless the father draws us and we cannot come to the father unless it’s through Christ. We know from what Jesus said that he is, in a very real sense, the image of the father – “you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.” We also know, from part I, that God is spirit (Jn 4:24) and it’s not as easy for us to know the characteristics of God as it is to see the physical manifestations of Jesus as “God in the flesh.” As much as we might want to put flesh and bones on the eternal father, it’s probably not the best idea. For one, it’s too easy to compartmentalize our image of him and two, idolatry is just around the corner when we construct God in that way. A.W. Tozer in his book The Pursuit of God says that God has many if not all the same characteristics as we do. “God is a Person, and in the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may.”* This idea, attaching human characteristics to God is, at best, a cautionary exercise. Yes, mankind was made in the image of God, but I’m not certain the Genesis text was aiming to say God looks like us, acts like us, thinks like us and feels like us or the reverse. For example, once we give God emotions we bring an element of capriciousness to his being that seems rather contrary to what theologians tells us about him – immutability is a good example. What the writer of Genesis was attempting to display was that our spiritual nature, our ability to be in right relationship to God, was a reflection of God and the son who was present before the worlds were created. Just as they are one, God made us in his image that we might also be one with them (John 17:20-22).
Having said that, it seems important to acknowledge and come to terms with how we and the Bible talk about God. Clearly both use human terms – God is love, God gets angry, God regrets, God is wrathful, God is ubiquitous. Yes, God’s ways are not are ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts, yet we put his ways and thoughts in human terms (anthropomorphism) because those are the only terms we have. Furthermore, based on the theory of inspiration of scripture, it would seem God puts his own character elements in human terms for us. When God sends his son he does it exactly human – in the flesh. In the life and ministry of Jesus we see his reflection not only of God, but of humankind. Jesus walks, talks, “thinks”, prays, eats, drinks, sleeps, all human characteristics. He prays, he obeys, he teaches, he weeps, he reasons, he dies. In a real sense, all we know about God and Christ we know in human terms. With Christ we know those terms are fairly accurate from the gospel writer’s own accounts – When it comes to God, maybe not so much. He is spirit and describing the spirit is like describing the wind – we see its evidence and speak about it, but we can’t wrap our arms around it (John 3).
Did I mention in Part I, the idea of deep water and not being able to see the bottom? In the next part we’ll look at terms and phrases used in scripture to capture this idea of knowing God/Christ. As always, your comments and observations are welcomed.
Mat 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
* Tozer, A. W. (Aiden Wilson) (2011-03-24). The Pursuit of God (pp. 12-13) (Kindle Edition).