What could possibly be better than knowing an infinite being who loves you unconditionally?
Encounters with God have been the greatest experiences in my life. It may seem to the unbeliever and the skeptic that when I say I “know” God I’m making a very arrogant claim, or that I am at least partially insane or deluded…
(There’s a short version of this post: this one is long!)
Some people think it’s impossible to know God, since they can’t see him in the sky or under the bed, and that’s as far as they’re prepared to look. They haven’t heard him speak, they can’t see God in operation, they can’t see him doing the kind of things they think a god should do, they’ve heard that he’s a boogie man wanting to spoil everyone’s fun, and they’re convinced that “all” the educated people “know” there isn’t a God: magically, the human “expert” has become the all-knowing one!
We evangelical Christians talk of having a “relationship” with God, and unbelievers either mock or just don’t get it. Without going into a lengthy theological study, I want to share the reasons I feel confident in saying that I know God.
KNOWING ABOUT GOD
One part of knowing God is knowing about God. God can be known to a great degree by the things he has made, “so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Nature is itself witness to the fact that there is an incredibly intelligent, powerful creator who knows all about beauty, science, and as many things as you can mention. In fact, since he created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) there’s nothing in all creation that he doesn’t understand and know far more intimately than any evolutionist you can mention.
God is an infinite being, and we are extremely finite: it’s impossible for us to know all about him, or to know him fully. But by studying the world around us we can see that God is endlessly creative. He’s a lover of beauty, order and design, and more powerful and intelligent than we can imagine. We can see that he must be outside of time in order to create time (Genesis 1:1) and that he must be beyond matter in order to create matter. We can see that he must love humanity since he created us, and that he must have incredible patience, since he is also patient with us.
When we know about God-who he is, what he’s like, what he loves and what he hates, what he’s done and what he does-we can more clearly understand God and so know him. But we can take this understanding to a much deeper level. We evangelicals have come to believe that the Bible is the inspired message of God to man. In defense of this view I’ve written posts such as this one:
Biblical scripture gives clear directions on how to come into an intimate and personal relationship with God, and I’ll attempt to summarize them here. I don’t mean to say that there’s a strict formula to follow, that we have to have all the jargon just right and say a magical incantation before it “works”: some people enter into this relationship naturally without realizing that they are being reborn. It’s the step of faith towards God that’s important:
1: We are separated from God from birth because God is holy and perfect, and we are imperfect and sinful. As Paul said,
“…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23);
2: We cannot make ourselves acceptable to God through good works or rituals, or by joining a religious organization: organizations and their “priests” have no power to influence God (and I say thank the Lord for that);
3: Jesus, God’s son, came into the world to become our “bridge”, our connection to God. He died on the cross to pay the price of our sin which is death, and he rose from the dead in order to conquer death and give us new life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come;
4: Jesus said “You must be born again” (John 3:3-8).
Being born again involves the Spirit of God, upon our invitation or/and step of faith, entering our being and bringing our spirit alive and into an inseparable and unbreakable union with Him. The work of spiritual rebirth is entirely his. We can’t have a relationship with God until we are reborn. We activate this rebirth by realizing that we need and want God, by turning from our old ways which are in opposition to God’s ways, by inviting his intervention, and by entrusting ourselves to God through faith in Jesus Christ. We are acceptable to God because we associate ourselves with his son Jesus. God accepts his son completely, and all who associate with him.
The “entrusting” I menitoned can (to my mind) be likened to boarding an aircraft. We don’t fully understand the wonders of flight, how the plane is built, how the pilot operates the plane or how he navigates and arrives at our destination hundreds or thousands of miles away, but we still make the decision that we are going with him anyway because we want to, and because we believe he can get us there safely as his airline vouches he will. We commit our lives and our near future to the pilot, the plane and the airline. In a similar way, to be born again we commit ourselves to God through his son Jesus Christ.
Being born again is just the beginning of a new relationship with God. Jesus Christ is our mediator (scripturally, our only mediator). Our prayers and worship are acceptable to God because of Jesus his son. Through this prayer and worship, and in fact through the way we conduct ourselves in all areas of our life, we can build a relationship with our Creator.
Alright, you may say, so far so good, but isn’t the communication stream rather one-sided? How does God communicate with the believer?
HEARING FROM GOD
There are some who are convinced that God speaks audibly to them, and directs them in every area of life, right down to which box of cereal to pick from the supermarket shelf. With respect, my view is that this is very faulty theology. While there are from time to time moments when God does seem to speak words into our minds, I think this is by far the exception rather than the rule. A much more realistic way of understanding the concept of God speaking to us is that by His spirit within us he impresses ideas into our minds so that we can conclude what he wants us to think and to do.
However, if we are not careful, this also can be a very subjective method of “hearing” from God. Too many Christians are guided by their feelings (as are many unbelievers) when in fact feelings are entirely fallible and untrustworthy. God can “speak” to us without our emotions being stirred. I do confess that in my own experience God’s spirit can arouse a range of emotions: the important thing is not to be governed solely by feelings or emotions.
It’s vitally important for us to compare the thoughts within us with what we read in scripture. If what we’ve sensed contradicts what we can know for sure about God our thoughts are wrong, and the idea came from our own minds or from somewhere else. If what we sensed is confirmed by scripture we can confidently conclude that God may have “spoken” to us. In this way we can learn to “know” God.
So a relationship with God comes by having his spirit within us, and by being guided and willingly changed by his word. It comes by being receptive and sensitive to guidance and correction via our conscience. It comes by living out his commandments and his will in our daily lives (such as having love for others). It comes by learning about who God is: what his character is, what he loves and what he detests, by knowing and understanding how he has dealt with people in the past, by knowing his revealed word (his commandments and clear statements), and by knowing and loving his son Jesus Christ.
When we’re sensitive to God in our lives we can sometimes notice God’s intervention, guidance and presence, though sometimes only when we look back in time, and we can see answers to prayer, even if they aren’t the answers we wanted. It’s these experiences which work with scripture to help us understand more about God, and when we know more about him in our own lives, we know him more.
God already knows all about us. David said:
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).
Scripture makes clear that God knows our thoughts, and Jesus said:
“…the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30).
THAT TINGLY FEELING
While I’m not one to gain spiritual “power” through all kinds of supposed manifestations of God’s spirit, popular in some Christian circles and which I think are no more than deception, I believe there are ways to “feel” the presence of God. For example, the surest way of enjoying the presence of God and of sensing his spirit is to spend time giving him genuine and unreserved praise and thanks, acknowledging who he is. Such times have, for me, been the most sublime moments of being in my life. The sense of wholeness, peace and joy I’ve felt in times of praise and worship are without equal, and impossible to describe.
The surest way to feel better about a situation in life is via the prayer of faith. As Paul said:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).
And the surest way to get intimate with God is to get intimate with him. As scripture says:
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8 ESV).