The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes that “God is incomprehensible to man…Man can know some things about God without knowing everything that God knows” and, I might add, know everything about God.
Because we are a people of the Book – at some level we can know God; how he acts and what he says. In addition, since the Bible records the life and times of Jesus, we can know him at some level based on the gospels record of how he acts, what he says, even his emotions. But knowledge of either is limited to a great degree by what they expose of themselves through scripture. That knowledge had what seemed to be evolutionary tendencies. For example, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was and their response as expressed by Peter, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” This reply was in many respects a reflection of what they (the Twelve) heard Jesus teach and what their Jewish background deemed essential for the coming Messiah of God: miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiveness of sin. To express this evolution of understanding a bit more, during a particular teaching moment, Philip asked Christ to show them the Father and Jesus asked him, “Have I been so long with you and yet you have not come to know me, Philip?” Philip’s question and Jesus’ reply demonstrate that even in the very physical presence of the only begotten son of God the disciples struggled to understand and yes even believe that this was indeed the Messiah and what he was saying about himself, the father, and the kingdom of God was true and believable. If those simple observations are accurate, and I believe they are, this will give us some idea of how hard it is for us to know God and Christ.
In the evidence of scripture the element of progression exposes itself in this way:
If we look at the overall scope of the OT, it seems knowledge of God manifest itself in three areas:
- Know the LORD, as in recognize or acknowledge – such as evidenced with Pharaoh, the enemies of Israel as the people of God moved into the promised land and the suppressors of the nation all found a time and place where they came to know the LORD.
- Know the LORD, as in believe that he is, even to worship him – evidenced in Israel’s trust in God through the exodus and into the promised land. The development of that faith in the presence of other gods, and the voice of the work of God through the judges, the kings and soon the prophets showed a progression from “simple” obedience through sacrifice and law-keeping to a point where the law would be written on the heart which is the third point.
- Know the LORD, as in personal faith – as proclaimed through Jeremiah for example, “I will give them a heart to know me and…they will all know me…”
When Israel talked about God it seemed to almost always be in the context of his presence (the tent of meeting, the Tabernacle, the City of Jerusalem) and how he would rescue them from difficult times, bring a leader to help them defeat the enemy, reestablish the city of Jerusalem and the temple along with bringing an era of peace. They understood that the sum of their relationship to God was centered on the Torah. Those who were obedient saw God’s blessings. Those who were not saw God’s punishment. As God worked to redeem his people, those responsible for their periods of captivity as well as the people of Israel would come to “know the LORD.”
This basic mindset was true even in Jesus’ day consequently the same three concepts noted above can apply to Christ although the personal faith aspect takes on a more vivid and empowered dimension because of the power of the resurrection and the spirit of God. In addition, when one knows Christ, they know God. As indicated in the first installment, this relationship cannot be separated. A key verse in this understanding is found in 1Jn 5:20:
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we
may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He
is the true God and eternal life. (NRSV)
The personal relationship that believers in the Christ would come to know through the spirit of God which, in a very real way displayed the intention of God through the Law and sacrifice, was one of the reasons the religious leaders were so upset with Jesus’ “but I say to you” series of teaching regarding the Law, his miracles, his acts of healing and of course the forgiveness of sin which expressly demonstrated his relationship to the father. As a people the Jews hadn’t moved much beyond their initial circle of understanding so it was in this type of context that the ministry of Christ hit headlong. It is in many respects why the people expected Christ to be the leader that would free them from Roman oppression, reestablish the Temple/Jerusalem as the city of God and bring about an era of peace. When it became clear that their understanding of Christ was wrong, confusion and frustration was the result.
Holding that overall picture in our understanding provides us a certain means of knowing God and Christ. Too often we want to shape our knowledge of God in our image and wonder why he doesn’t act like we would act if we were him. But that’s not God’s purpose or intent. We were created in his image. To fulfill that image means to come to a full knowledge of him, fulfilling our relationship to him and bringing flesh to the kingdom of God established through Christ. It’s through our knowledge of God and faith in Christ that the kingdom walls are built on earth as in heaven. It’s through our right knowledge of God and Christ that we bring the message of hope to a lost and dying world.