How Can I Know God?

A father asked what his daughter was drawing. She answered, “God.”

The father said, “Honey, nobody knows what God looks like.”

Without batting an eye, she responded, “They will when I get through.”

Can we know God? Is it possible to know about him without knowing him personally? Knowing God is the most important knowledge because ignorance of God leads to evil behavior (Romans 1:21-31; John 16:2, 3; 1 John 4:8) and bears eternal consequences (John 17:3). Knowing God personally is what really matters.

How we view life depends on how we view God. For those who do not know God, life is a confusing maze.

Knowing God enables us to know why we are here on earth, how we should live, and what to expect in the life to come. Having God’s point of view on life and the world gives us perspective and stability. “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33).

The true and living God wants to be known. He revealed himself to Israel through the historical experience of his grace and judgment. Through their obedience and righteousness he wanted the nations to know him so he could bless them (Genesis 12:2, 3; 18:19; Exodus 19:4-6). He wills that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14; see also Psalm 22:27, 30, 31). Today people from all nations can come to know the living God through the preaching of the gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).

Knowing God does not mean we always understand him. No one knows everything about God. We do not have a complete understanding of ourselves or others. It is not surprising that we do not understand everything about the infinite being who made and rules the world. In everyday life we trust others without fully understanding them. We can know and trust God with our whole heart even when we do not understand all he does. His thoughts and ways far exceed our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8, 9).

How then can we know God? We know other people by what they say and do. We also know God by what he says and does. “But he is infinite and we are finite,” one may protest. God is not only infinite but he is also personal. God created human beings as persons made in his image. Because of this we can receive communication from God, express our thoughts to him, and have a personal relationship with him. We can know God’s thoughts because he has spoken. Knowing him involves our minds, emotions, and wills.

We Know God with Our Minds

From observing the world around us we can know the existence of a divine being with eternal power; but this knowledge alone does not bring us to a personal relationship with God (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). Paul introduced the pagan Athenians to the true God unknown to them (Acts 17) by appealing to nature and then to Christ.

God chose to communicate in human language. Through his words we gain a personal knowledge of him. God expressed his messages through inspired spokesmen—through prophets in the Old Testament and apostles in the New Testament. God’s supreme revelation came in the life, teachings, and work of Jesus. In Scripture he gives information about himself. He is eternal, having no beginning or end. He created all things and rules the universe. He is holy, perfect, loving, and merciful. Through Scripture we learn about his thoughts, feelings, character, plans, and actions.

If you asked a godly Israelite how he knew God he would probably tell about God leading his people out of Egypt or returning them to Israel from Babylon. By the statement that they “may know that I am the LORD” God explained his purpose in the events of the exodus and in the events of the exile and return. He states this 12 times in Exodus and 65 in Ezekiel. We can know God through the stories of his dealings with Israel and the nations.

“No one has ever seen God, but the unique God, the one in the bosom of the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18, my translation). The living God made himself visible to humans through the incarnation of God the Son. Jesus declared, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. . . . Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7, 9; John 8:19; 10:38, 12:45; 14:6-11; 17:20-26).

“No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). “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—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20, 21; see also 1 John 4:13-16).

Well aware of the God revealed in the Old Testament, Jesus’ disciples identified Jesus with that God. The New Testament writers recorded Jesus’ teaching, actions, and claims identifying himself with the functions of the God of Israel—Creator, Ruler, King, Judge and Redeemer. God’s mission in the Old Testament of making himself known to the nations continues through Jesus and the Great Commission.

Without having a complete knowledge of God we can have true knowledge of him. Factual knowledge is a part of knowing God, but we can learn information about God without knowing him personally. We can know God intellectually but also we can know him by experience.

We Know God in Our Emotional Response

My friend consistently shows unselfishness, honesty, and kindness to me and to others. These actions create within me a growing sense of respect, confidence, and trust in him.

As we learn about God’s actions in history—his miraculous power, his faithfulness to his promises, and his compassion and love for his people—we grow in our love and trust in him. We stand in wonder, amazement, and awe at his divine majesty.

Without communication personal relationships suffer or die. Knowing God personally involves our speaking to him in prayer. Prayer is not merely asking. It is conversation and communion with the God of the universe who eagerly listens to his children. We must meditate on what we know about God as he asks us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Continual expressions of love between husband and wife deepen their relationship. A continuing practice of worship deepens our knowledge and relationship with God. Worship helps us focus on God and rise above our selfish concerns, reminds of our total indebtedness to and dependence upon God, and inspires us to renewed love and service. Memorials such as the Passover and the Lord’s Supper remind the worshiper of what God has done and is doing.

Knowing God is not merely believing God exists but personally trusting him and loving him. We devote our whole being to pleasing him more than pleasing self or any person on earth. We honor, praise, and give him thanks as our God. With a whole heart we care about him and his cause.

Salvation through Christ gives us assurance of forgiveness of sin and hope of eternal life. We experience peace of mind and the joy of being in Christ. As we express our feelings of dependence, loyalty, and devotion to the Lord, our love grows and we come to know him better.

We Know God in Our Ethical Behavior

In addition to mental knowledge and emotional response, we need to obey him because he is God. We submit to his word and will. We come to know him better as we obey him. As we surrender to his lordship and obey his commandments, the thoughts and emotions of our inner spirit come more in line and in tune with God. John said those who claim to know God but disobey his commandments are liars (1 John 2:4).

When we choose to do the right thing in the teeth of powerful temptations, when we trust God when horrible things happen to us, when we put God first when everything is going great, our knowledge of the person of God becomes more real. As we walk daily with the Lord, loving and obeying him, our knowledge of him deepens and grows.

The Lookout, August 16, 2009

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