Reflections on Knowing God, Chapters 3–4
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
One of my assignments for Christian Theology I at Southeastern is writing short devotional reflections on J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. On the days I read it, I am using this as my primary devotional material, so it will take the place of reflection on Scripture on those days.
Chapter 3: Knowing and Being Known
A few things were particularly moving to me in this chapter, so I shall quote them and then comment and the ways in which they moved me.
What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?
It can be easy for me to lose sight of the profundity of the Christian calling. I am called to know and be known by the living God who made the universe and upholds it by his power every moment. He is infinite, but invites me to know him. This is, in a word, marvelous—it makes me marvel. God, so great he can never be known completely, nonetheless wants me to know him truly. He has communicated himself to me: he speaks through his Word, which he himself inspired. He took on flesh that he might perfectly communicate deity to humanity—so that I might know him, and not be forever kept from my ultimate purpose for existence. It moves me to prayer: “Oh God, that I might know you, and delight in knowing you! There is nothing more glorious, nothing better!”
But knowing Jesus Christ still remains as definite a relation of personal discipleship as it was for the Twelve when he was on earth. The Jesus who walks through the gospel story walks with Christians now, and knowing him involves going with him, now as then.
I had never thought of this before. I have considered how the Holy Spirit teaches us, of course, and I have even pondered what it meant when Jesus told his disciples that it was better for him to leave, so that the Spirit would come and indwell them and us (John 16:7). It never really crossed my mind, though perhaps it should have, that Jesus is making us his disciples. That is, it occurs to me, precisely what the Great Commission teaches us, of course! I am called to go and make disciples—not disciples of myself, but disciples of Jesus Christ. Something about Packer’s putting it just that way reminds me that as I read the gospels, I must see myself as Jesus’ student, seeking to follow his ways. Yes, by all means think about the theological focus of each author; yes, by all means consider the implications of this statement or that; yes, by all means integrate the books of the New Testament into a systematic and Biblical theology—but always with the singular point of following Jesus Christ. That is the only reason to do those other things: to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent.
Chapter 4: The Only True God
I find it interesting that Packer takes as the subject of his fourth chapter the prohibition on images. The more I chew on it, though, the more sense it makes. Chapter 3 points us to the necessity of knowing the God who knows us, and Chapters 5 and following trace out the doctrine of God in much more detail. Packer is right to follow the commandments, though, and emphasize that in knowing God we must be careful not to know the mere imaginings of human beings. Substituting our own ideas of what God is like, rather than submitting to his self-revelation, is the heights of arrogance—but we are all guilty of doing just that at times. May it be ever more rare in me!
As someone who loves the arts, I found Packer’s thoughts on the use of the arts in worship insightful and accurate. He comments:
Whatever we may think of religious art from a cultural standpoint, we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us.
I think this is a good corrective not only to our use of visual arts, but to our reliance on certain musical movements to “feel” worshipful. Our Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters may find themselves relying on images and incense, but I know it easy for me to rely instead on the bass coming in or the toms rumbling or the effect of all the instruments building up to a great crescendo and then cutting out to leave just the sound of congregational singing. To be sure, these are all fine things in their own right, but they can become a crutch and prevent me from making sure that I am in fact worshipping God, and not merely enjoying an emotional flow.
Finally, Packer’s relatively brief aside on Isaiah’s prompting (‘”To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?” The question does not expect an answer, only a chastened silence.’) provocative. Like God’s questions to Job, these questions remind me that I am but a man and he is God—infinitely above me, impossibly great and beyond comprehension, and worthy of all worship. Theological rigor is excellent and essential to real worship, but my knowledge of God will always ultimately end in humbled silence as it ultimately shows me the boundaries of that knowledge. There will always be more to know of God. Hallelujah!