“Our heart bears witness: no matter how we twist and turn and deny, by our inner decisions we will either move toward God or away from him.”(1)
In the biblical text there are concepts we can’t quite understand. Concepts that pose a mystery yet somehow we find words to describe them. The trinity is a good example and, as we’ve been discussing, the idea of knowing God.
In an upcoming novel by Jerry Jenkins, I Saul, there is a section where the Apostle Paul talks about his years as a young man. He describes a trip he and his father made to Jerusalem to select the rabbinical school where the young Paul would study. In an interview with Gamaliel, the head of the Hillel school, Paul is asked, “Tell me about you and God. Do you feel as if you know Him, or just about Him?”
Paul replies, “I have told my father and my Rabbi that I wish I could walk and talk with God the way Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did.”
This desire of Paul’s was not something his father encouraged. His father believed it was not possible to know God in such a way and stated so. “…God is unknowable. We are called to know about Him and to obey.”
The observation by Paul’s father is not something Gamaliel totally rejects but he is quick to add, “…I choose not to forfeit the hope that we may know Him as did the Patriarchs.”(2)
As I read this exchange I found myself coming to terms with the reality that many of us, like Gamaliel and Paul, have a desire to know God. Not just as the Patriarchs did but in our own way. A personal and intimate way. How we describe that, just like other mysteries, is not as important as engaging it.
For the Patriarchs, the relationship with God was not one that focused so much on the walking and talking as it did obeying. It was in obeying that the relationship with God was cultivated. Without obedience the Patriarchs languished in the cloud of simply knowing about God. Without obedience any relational experience was in serious jeopardy, just as it was for the nation of Israel as a whole. We witness that countless times in the OT. Even David cried out, after his egregious sin, “Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your holy spirit from me.”(3)
Because obedience to God was the principle path to knowing God, and as time revealed, his incarnate son, it’s important that that concept not be discounted. However, the idea of obedience does not mean keeping the “Law”, based on jots and tittles. (Remember the comment by Paul’s father?) The scriptures are rife with people who knew the Law but were, without question, estranged from God. Jesus expressed this same thought when he referred to people who called him “Lord, Lord”. He stated emphatically that he never knew them. However, keeping the Law based on its intended purpose was the path for moving beyond knowing about God to knowing God.
Here’s where we need to be cautious. Even though obedience to God is the linchpin to knowing God, we should not misunderstand obedience as it relates to grace. It is through grace that we find our acceptance before the Almighty. It is through obedience that we express our gratitude for that grace. It was no different for the Patriarchs.
As Christ-followers, we come to the father only through his son. We come to the son only through grace. We come to grace only through faith.(4) Then and only then can we understand our obligation to obedience. It is through obedience that I experience “friendship” with the divine. As Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”(5)
What does it mean to walk and talk with God? Quite frankly it means obedience. Something Paul became totally committed to, at great cost, once he experienced the very presence of the Christ. It is also what summons you and I. Is obedience hard? Absolutely it is. I struggle with it every day. There is no easy path to obedience. I find if it’s not my thoughts getting in the way, it’s distractions coming from every side. If not those, do I need to mention that nemesis called television, or Facebook, or Twitter?
Yes we can “walk and talk with God like the Patriarchs.” We can not only know about God, we can know him. But that privilege comes tucked in the arms of obedience.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you feel obedience is important in our quest to know God? Or, is knowing God simply a matter of grace and nothing more? How close a bedfellow is obedience to what some call works righteousness?
(1) Francis Martin, The Bible and Epistemology, “The Word and Prayer: Epistemology in the Psalms”
(2) pg. 196-197, Advance Reader Copy, I, Saul, Worthy Publishing
(3) Psalm 51:11
(4) John 15:14