Knowledge of God
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:5
Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, for the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land. Hosea 4:1
For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! Romans 11:33
Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:10
that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself. Colossians 2:2
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2
There are two very different ways of coming to this list of texts. And how I approach them, the spirit which motivates me while I read them, can make all the difference in the world in what I receive from them and from God. And while it is not so much a matter of right or wrong ways of looking at Scripture, not engaging Scripture the way God designed for us to do can make a huge difference in whether I actually encounter and experience the life of God as I meditate on them or whether I only find a list of words, facts and head knowledge. And as Paul pointed out, the letter can kill while it is the spirit that gives life.
I am experiencing this difference even this morning as I write about this. The thought came to me a few days ago to compile this list of texts while I was searching for a passage using the phrase 'knowledge of God.' As I saw the rather short list that resulted from my search, I knew that very likely I would receive significant benefit from bringing them all together and taking a much closer look at them.
It was a day or so later that I actually finished collecting them and putting them into a document to consider more closely. But I was short on time so I let them sit there until I saw them again this morning and finally to sort through them, highlight the significant words and phrases to make them stand out more readily and begin contemplating about how they might complement each other and what I might learn from this. But as I did so it seemed to be a rather mechanical, intellectual exercise and not nearly as inspiring as I knew it should be. Of course I could probably use my mind to sort through the various words and ideas and piece together a good explanation of what it all could mean and maybe even write a paper or a talk on the subject. But that is not my desire or goal for I have learned that unless my heart is engaged in things such as this that the results can actually turn out to be counterproductive instead of a blessing. It might not be 'wrong' necessarily, but at the same time what is produced likely would not be very life-giving. And there is an over-abundance of lifeless expositions circulating today without the need for me to add yet another one. But still, if I wanted to I could push through and produce such a document.
Gratefully I stopped my study to take a shower. And while in the shower as is often the case, I began dialoging with God about whatever might be on my mind or whatever I am feeling at the moment. As I did so I felt my heart beginning to feel a deeper, intense desire to really know God more intimately as He has been inviting me to do for so long. It suddenly hit me that this was what was missing in my approach to these verses. I was only looking at them with my mind but my heart was not engaged or motivated by a deep hunger for God connected with my emotions. What I really need is to allow my heart and my emotional side to take the lead in my search for insights and answers while keeping my left brain intellectual skills as a supplement instead of the part in charge. I have learned that when I seek for this balance between the two sides of my makeup that the results are exponentially more satisfying, edifying and life-producing.
Interestingly the words that might result from my study of a list of verses like this may at times turn out to be very similar; yet the effect in my life can be radically different. I may or may not arrive at similar-sounding conclusions using my intellect or using my heart; but the impact of the study in my soul will be so far from doing it the other way that I am coming to realize the importance of always paying attention to the condition of my heart when it comes to the things of the spirit. I really don't want to waste my time slogging through a study only to come up with a polished paper that may impress others but does not have real spiritual life resonating within it for me. I have spent too many years spinning my wheels in that kind of activity and I now want to allow my heart to catch up and really connect with the heart of God in the way I approach life and Scripture and spirituality today.
Ever since I was made aware that I had a spirit and that I needed to be more cognizant of the condition of my spirit many years ago, I have realized that this is a part of my awareness that is terribly dwarfed and in much need of more exercise and observation. That does not mean I did not have a spirit before, but simply that being ignorant of it I was easily manipulated by all sorts of other spirits as well as feeling very confused as to how to listen to the Spirit of God speaking to me. But as I have chosen to try to be more conscious and discerning of my own spirit, to my delight I began realizing that it has helped me immensely over time to hear more clearly the messages coming from the Spirit of God. The Word tells us that it is with our spirit that we communicate with God's Spirit, and Jesus said plainly that those who want to worship God must worship Him in spirit as well as in truth.
Over about half of my life now I have begun to see the extreme importance of coming to know God personally. My spiritual life up to that point was made up almost exclusively of complex answers, doctrines, memorized facts and arguments for defending my brand of religion. Knowing God at best was just another formula that I was supposed to figure out how to practice, but it more likely did not show up in my thinking at all. I was raised by a father who insisted that the notion of having a relationship with Jesus was only a dangerous heresy that was creeping into the church that needed to be resisted. Given that atmosphere it was no wonder that I had no incentive to come to know God on a personal level. The only kind of knowledge relating to God was strictly informational sort of knowledge, and anything involving my feelings in regards to God was viewed as emotionalism that was to be astutely avoided. My religion was primarily a head-based religion like pretty much everyone around me practiced. I am sure there were some exceptions to that, but none that were able to have much effect on my thick walls of defensive religious doctrines from years of careful training.
Adding to my problem of not knowing God, my internally formed concept of God increasingly was always one of an angry deity far away who seemed constantly obsessed with watching my every move to find any excuse to condemn or punish me. I came to feel (though I was fearful to admit it consciously) that God's main objective seemed to be to find every excuse to keep me from getting into heaven while it was apparently my role to try to repent enough, get my act together enough and be obedient enough and be able to prove that all my sins had somehow been 'covered by the blood of the Lamb.' I faced a terribly confusing and complex system of rules, formulas and a narrow tightrope to balance myself in order to try to get past all the obstacles designed to screen out any who were not diligent enough to be saved. 'Watch and pray' was a quote often heard, but for me this meant 'watch out because God is waiting to get you in trouble' and 'pray without ceasing or God will be even more upset than He already is.'
This was how my heart saw God, so any notion of having a congenial relationship with Him was simply not on my radar, much less feeling attracted to Him. If anything I felt more like I was running a gauntlet trying to get inside the gates of heaven before God found some reason to slams the doors in my face because of some obscure, forgotten sin that I had failed to confess from somewhere in my past.
There were many times during that period of my life that I actually wished and even asked for God to kill me quickly right after I had spent great effort trying to confess every sin and even any temptations I might ever encountered so that I wouldn't have to start all over again confessing even more that were sure to come. It was even murky in my mind where the line between temptation and sin lay and I recall many debates over just where that line might be crossed. So to play it safe I usually viewed nearly every temptation as a sin committed that needed confession, repentance and covering by the atoning (read 'appeasing') blood of Jesus just in case I didn't know the right answer as to where the line might have been crossed.
And yet all of this enormous and continuous effort to keep God from feeling cross about me never seemed to bring any relief. No matter how much I confessed and begged for forgiveness, I never could feel certain that He actually had let go of His ill feelings over all of my petty or not so petty transgressions. In fact, during those many years of living in constant internal torment and massive religious efforts to be perfect, the only results I found making changes in me was that I was feeling more and more bitter and angry and rebellious while at the same time feeling more and more guilty and even hopeless. I now can see what was happening and why, but at the time I had no clue as to why it seemed so hard for me to be saved by being a good person.
One major problem was that my concept of how God felt about me was both shaped and in turn reinforced faulty assumed definitions for nearly every religious term I used. I struggled to even know the definition of the word sin, since it seemed that sin was at the center of my problem with God. I was assured repeatedly that sin was transgressing the Law of God – breaking the rules. But with Jesus saying that even feelings of anger or lust were just as bad as killing someone or raping a woman, I had little hope of ever being free of guilt as my own fleshly desires were very hard to control as far as my imagination was concerned. With teenage levels of hormones surging through my body making me desire sexual pleasure, and yet believing that all of those feelings were terribly sinful and offensive to God, it was still impossible to avoid feeling tempted to want things associated with pleasure.
As my increasingly repressed rage deepened and my lusts seemed to flaunt all attempts to suppress them, I felt at times that death or just giving up on God just might be preferable to the constant turmoil from the fear and torture of soul that increasingly dominated my brain every waking minute. I came to the point at times of simply throwing out religion altogether and plunging into as many sinful pleasures as I could in order to maybe figure out a way to come back to God from that direction. Maybe then I might find the peace like in stories I heard from others. But fear of dying before I returned to God always prevented me from taking that route, for I was certain from all of my religious instruction that if I was lost that God was waiting with a lake of fire fueled by sulphur and brimstone to torture me if I chose to sin and did not have them all 'covered with the blood' before my time was up.
With this vivid picture of a God who I now realize was more like a sick abuser or even a monster than anything like Jesus, all these verses that speak of having a knowledge of God simply had little attraction or help for me. I felt I already knew enough about God to know that I didn't like what I knew already. So why would I want to know more of the same?
I wish I could say that one day I had a dramatic breakthrough, a 'Saul of Tarsus' experience where God suddenly confronted me with the truth and that after that my life was dramatically changed. I used to love hearing stories like that, but for me they seem to remain stories that happen to other people. God's efforts to change my opinions about Him have been long and seemingly very slow. As a result I still struggle to know for sure if I am converted, if I am really in a saving relationship with Him or if I am deep inside still a rebel that is just doing an even better job of keeping up appearances. It seems that the more cognizant I become of the real truth about God and the way He designed reality to exist in His universe, the more out of harmony I find my heart to be with that frightening society of purity and joy.
I know that it is natural to feel even more despairing as I come closer and closer to knowing God personally, and the only hope I really have is to keep focusing on discovering and focusing on the truth about Him that has already radically changed my feelings about Him from what I had as a teenager and beyond. But still, the more I see how good and consistent and loving and accepting He is the more rotten I see my own heart. At the same time I do see glimmers of hope in how my own life and my relationships with others are slowly beginning to improve as a result of having my internal picture of Him replaced with fresh revelations that He is nothing like what I grew up thinking about Him.
It is one thing to swap out intellectual beliefs or doctrines about the nature of God with new ones; it is entirely another thing to convince my heart that all these stimulating truths are actually real and believable. After so many years of living in constant fear of a vengeful God waiting to punish any who don't live up to His impossibly high standards of conduct and belief, I find it very slow and even unpredictable as to how to change my gut-level feelings and reactions whenever I think about God. But again, I see changes appearing in ways that are unexpected at times and I am reminded that I really have little control over what my heart believes except to make better choices as to the content of what flows into my imagination on a daily basis.
Over the past twenty years or so I see that my desire to know God has increased greatly. At times I have felt an awareness of His presence with a sweetness that I never before imagined I could feel. Increasingly He has pushed me to challenge every assumption I ever had about Him along with my perceptions of the meanings of every religious word and phrase that has shaped my life. As I have done so, I find to my utter amazement that almost without exception everything I assumed about Him and everything I thought about the meanings of religious words has all been wrong. And the wonderful thing is that all of these mistaken ideas now being expelled were the roots of all my fear and despair much of my life, not the true God that I am now finally beginning to discover myself. Yet I still feel a very long ways off from having the solid sense of loyalty and affection for Him at the heart level that I know I need and desire.
Religion equipped me heavily with a knowledge of Scripture for which I am grateful. And although for many years that library of knowledge had little impact to help me come to love God, it now is providing an enormous advantage as the Holy Spirit taps into my internal familiarity with the Word to reinterpret everything I thought I knew in the past. As I have opened my mind and allowed the Spirit of God to challenge and slowly heal the enormous damage in my heart, I am starting to feel awakenings inside that I never thought possible most of my life. As I discover more and more fabulous things about God's character and disposition that were hidden from me all these years, I now not only see a beautiful consistency that I could never discern before but my heart increasingly desires to interact with this God that I never knew before.
So, having said all of this, I want to allow my heart to take the lead in listening to the Spirit of God resonating with the spirit in myself as I contemplate and soak in these passages that can lead me closer to enjoying the intimacy with the heart of God that I was designed from the beginning to experience. I can't make my heart love and appreciate God, but I can keep exposing myself intentionally to all things bright and beautiful, all evidences of God's passionate love for me, as well as continuing my efforts to release all the resistance built up over many years against letting God love me.
I came across a definition for the word 'worship' last night that really pulled together what God has been seeking to show me over recent years. This word worship that seems so misunderstood in all the discussions and controversies surrounding it, actually is a contraction from two very old English words – worth and the suffix -ship. I have discovered in Revelation that the worth part of this word entails coming to appreciate how much God is actually worth trusting as we finally begin to see the real truth about what He is like. When I take a fresh look at the worth-ship of God based on how good He is, especially in contrast with what I assumed about Him for much of my life, then having faith in Him becomes far easier than I ever imagined. An old cliché is finally making sense to my heart that previously seemed so trite – to know Him is to love Him.
I could never find it in my heart to love God for many years because I just couldn't produce love on demand, and everything that religion taught me revolved around demands to love God – or else. But the more clearly I see that this is not the case at all, and that even the 'or else' does not emanate from God but rather from the natural effects of withdrawing from His life-giving love, I now start to feel the attraction that Jesus talked about when He said that if He was lifted up He would draw everyone to Himself. I am finally starting to feel that drawing and I keep choosing to respond to it as much as I can.
One of the most important revelations Jesus ever shared was when He talked about the true definition of eternal life – that elusive goal that seemed so impossible most of my life. "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3) Since this is reality according to Jesus, then what I want to focus on is getting to know both God and Jesus as fast as my heart can handle it. This is why I find this exercise of pondering these verses on the knowledge of God so relevant and life-giving. For if they can lead me to know God even more intimately and can show me how to do that more effectively and efficiently, then I need to meditate on them day and night and allow the truths I find in them to enhance my response to the drawing of Jesus on my heart.
The deep desire of my heart is eloquently expressed in one of my all-time favorite worship songs written by Steve Green. These words express so clearly the deepest cravings of my heart that it is often impossible for me to sing them without my emotions shutting down my ability to sing out loud. The lyrics express what my soul longs to know ever more intently. I will close with the chorus of this song.
Oh, I want to know You more!
Deep within my soul I want to know You,
Oh, I want to know You.
To feel Your Heart and know Your Mind,
looking in Your eyes stirs up within me,
cries that says I want to know You
Oh, I want to know You more.
Oh, I want to know You more.