Some people thoroughly fascinate me. Soon after I meet them I sense that there is something extraordinary about them. They think deeply and profoundly about things. Their ideas are creative and interesting. Their suggestions are practical and profitable. They exude an unusual radiance and concern for others. I find myself asking them questions and listening intently to the answers because I want to get to know them better, find out what they think, how they feel, and what makes them the people they are. Getting to know them is immeasurably helpful to me.
One day it occurred to me that God is the most fascinating person alive and that getting to know Him could well be the most helpful thing that ever happened to me. The more I probed His nature the more convinced I became that knowing Him is the solution to most of my problems. And as I listened to others share their burdens with me as their pastor, I became convinced that knowing God better was the answer to many of their problems as well. I decided that I want to get to know God intimately, and that I want to help others get to know Him as well, if I possibly can.
Many Bible students believe as a result of their examination of Scripture that the Christian’s most important occupation is getting to know God. Would you say that you know God personally? If so, how well? Barely? Casually? Intimately? Polls reveal that, in spite of the increased secularization of our society, the great majority of Americans still believe in the existence of God. Nearly everyone has had doubts about it at some time or other, but when the average person considers the evidence thoughtfully, he comes to the convinced persuasion that there is no other logical explanation for things as they are or life as we know it. There must be a personal God.
But if those same people were asked, “Do you know God personally?” many would admit that they had never actually thought about it. Having a personal and intimate relationship with God is something that has never occurred to them. In fact, they are not even sure that God is knowable, or that they would want to know Him if they thought they could.
All of us have our own mental image of what God is like. Psychologists tell us that it is formed largely through our relationships with our earthly fathers. For some, God is an angry tyrant who is upset with them most of the time. Who wants to know a god like that? For others, God is a strict disciplinarian who is always watching over their shoulders, ready to rap them on the knuckles if they step out of line. They want to get as far as they can from a god like that. For still others, God is an absentee father who is too busy or too aloof to care about them. He created them but now He has more important things to do. There isn’t much sense in trying to get to know a god like that. And for yet others, God is like an old fashioned great-grandfather who might be nice to know, but who really wouldn’t understand them or have much in common with them if they did know Him. So why bother to make the effort?
Most people would like to feel that God is on their side rather than against them, or that He will be there when they need Him. But know Him personally? That concept is foreign to them. I have often wondered what God thinks about all this. He is a person, you know. He does think. And He does have feelings. How would you feel if you kept sharing yourself with others in overtures of friendship, but most everybody to whom you reached out refused to accept you or refused to believe what you had to say about yourself? They insisted instead on perpetuating their own preconceived notions about you and went on ignoring you. That may be how God feels about the situation.
God is knowable, and He does want to be known. As a matter of fact, He tells us that our eternal state depends upon knowing Him. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Knowing God and His Son Jesus is the heart of the whole matter of eternal life. The word know in this verse does not refer to a casual acquaintance either. It is the kind of knowledge that comes through living contact and personal relationship. If knowing God is that important, maybe we ought to talk about how we can get to know Him.
What does it mean to know somebody? Obviously, we must first know something about him, what he is like, how he thinks, and how he is likely to act under certain circumstances. And that can only happen when he reveals himself to us.
If I want to get to know you, I need to make myself available to you, reach out to you in a friendly way, and show an interest in you. But that will accomplish very little unless you are willing to reveal yourself to me. You are the key. You decide whether or not I will ever get to know you. If you want me to know you, you will open up and tell me about yourself—what you are thinking, what you really believe, what you are feeling. You will be yourself in my presence, that is, act in a normal manner consistent with your true personality. You won’t put on airs, wear a facade, mask your true self, or always put your best foot forward.
One reason some Christians enjoy so few genuine friendships is that they are afraid to let people know them, afraid they wouldn’t be liked or trusted if anybody knew the real person inside. So they play the old game of cover-up. God is not like that. He wants to be known. He is confident that the better we know Him, the more we will love Him, trust Him, worship Him, and serve Him. So He takes the initiative and opens up. He tells us about Himself. He reveals Himself to us. It has to be that way. There can be no personal knowledge of God unless He makes Himself known.
How does God reveal Himself? One way is in nature. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). He also reveals Himself in history. As King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon learned, “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Daniel 4:17). The Apostle Paul taught us that God reveals something about His holy standards through man’s conscience (Romans 2:14-16). But none of these give us very many particulars about God’s personality or nature. We need something more. We need to have Him talk with us. And He does that, not through spooky voices or mystical experiences, but through Scripture. They are God’s words to us. They were given by the breath of His mouth (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; Matthew 4:4). In the Bible God tells us what He is like. We learn how He thinks, how He feels, and how we can expect Him to act. If we want to know God, we must begin by opening the Bible and reading what He has to say about Himself.
But God is infinite, and we are finite human beings. How can the finite ever really understand the infinite? How can the human ever truly know the divine? It seems that God must reveal Himself to us in some way more personal than mere written words if we are ever to know Him genuinely. And that is exactly what He did. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus Christ is the out-shining of God’s glory and the perfect expression of God’s essential being. To know Him is to know God. Jesus Himself made that claim when He said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7).
While Jesus has returned bodily to Heaven, God has given us both the inspired record of His life as well as the spiritual faculties we need to know Him personally. We can know Christ just as intimately as if we walked with Him on earth as His first disciples did. And to know Him is to know God.
Of course, the spiritual faculties we need are not operative when we are born. Scripture says they are dead. They need to be made alive toward God (cf. Ephesians 2:1). God does that for us when we acknowledge our guilt and put our trust in Christ’s payment for our sins at Calvary. In a second birth, a spiritual birth, a birth from above, He gives us eternal, spiritual life (cf. John 3:3, 16). He enters our being in the person of His Spirit and brings us into a personal relationship with Himself. Then we can confidently say, “I know the Lord.” The knowledge of God begins at the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the knowledge He was referring to when He claimed that eternal life was a matter of knowing His Father and Himself. Knowing God in this sense means becoming a true Christian.
From that point on we have the spiritual resources to get to know Him better. And that is what He wants us to do. He encourages us to grow in His knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). But how is that going to happen? He has taken the initiative and has revealed Himself. The next step is ours.
Cultivate a Desire. Let’s go back to our human illustration for a moment. If I want to know you, first you must open up to me and share yourself with me. But I am still not going to know you very well unless I respond to your self revelation. The quality of my response will depend to a large degree on the intensity of my desire. Has my first insight into your personality whet my appetite to know more? Do I wish to pursue the relationship and carry it to a deeper level? While you were the key originally, now I am the key. I decide whether or not I will ever know you better.
Some Christians have not made much of a response in their relationship with God. They have learned enough about Him to acknowledge their need for salvation, and they have met Him personally and experientially in a saving relationship, but they have never moved on from there. Unfortunately they have gotten lousily entangled in too many other pursuits, and their time for getting to know God better has been crowded out. Though they know Him, it is not a very intimate and thorough knowledge. That could explain some of the problems in their lives, things such as nagging worries, endless fears, stifling guilt, a sour disposition, a gloomy outlook, and spiritual or emotional depression, since an inadequate knowledge of God will affect all these areas of life. And things will probably not change very much until they do develop a burning desire to know God more intimately.
Getting to know God better could well be the single most important issue in the Christian’s life. It affects so many aspects of our spiritual walk. For example, most believers who desire to please God want to know His will. They are asking, “What does God want me to do?” Knowing Him better will provide the answer to that question. As our knowledge grows, we will begin to think as He thinks, see things as He sees them, be burdened about the same things that burden Him. We will not need to ask what He wants us to do. We will know. And that is a good reason to begin cultivating a desire to know Him.
Moses had that desire. We read about it shortly after Israel’s idolatrous worship of the golden calf. Moses had pitched a tent outside the camp and was meeting there with God regularly. God was speaking to him face to face as a man speaks to his friend, and Moses was getting to know Him. But he wanted to know Him much better. “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee” (Exodus 33:13). That was the desire of his heart—to truly know God. His request resulted in a great promise from God: “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14). It was a beautiful assurance of God’s perpetual guidance and care.
But even that was not enough for Moses. Every new revelation of God stirred a hunger in his heart for more. With a longing in his soul he cried, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” (Exodus 33:18) God’s glory is the sum total of all his attributes. Moses yearned to know all that a human being can possibly absorb about an infinite God. His soul thirsted for a knowledge of God. That is how a person gets to know Him. He realizes that life in this world is empty and meaningless apart from an intimate and thorough knowledge of the living God who made the world and controls it, who made him and gave him life. He longs to know God and he cries out from the depths of his soul, “Show me Thy glory.” That person is ready for an earthshaking, life changing, experiential knowledge of God.
David had the same desire. We see it repeated throughout the Psalms:
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4).
To dwell in the house of the Lord was to live in intimate fellowship with the Lord. That was David’s passion:
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
Where shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
O GOD, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly;
My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).
Paul had the desire as well: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). All the position, praise, power, prestige, and possessions of earth were like trash compared to the excellency of knowing Christ because those things have no eternal value. They were not worth occupying his mind.
Why would anyone want to sit around and long after trash? Yet that is exactly what some believers are doing. They crave the things of the world instead of the knowledge of God; they long for the debris at the city dump when they can have the best life has to offer—an intimate relationship with the living God. The overpowering passion of Paul’s life was to know Christ (Philippians 3:10). That may have been one of the prime reasons God used him so powerfully. The desire was there. Ask God to give you that same desire, to help you cultivate a thirst for Him. Then begin reading His Word with an eye open to what He says about Himself. Each new revelation will create a desire to know more.
Accept What God Reveals. After cultivating the desire, the next step in our response to God’s self revelation is to accept what He makes known about Himself. That is the body of information we call the attributes of God. An attribute is an inherent characteristic, whatever God reveals as being true of Himself. It is not so much a part of God or a quality that He possesses as how He is or what He is—the essence of His being, His nature, His character. God and His attributes are actually one. As we study these attributes we are going to learn not only what God is like, but who God is.
Some theologians draw a sharp distinction between God’s essence and His attributes, but that seems to be unnecessary. The sum of His attributes constitutes who He is, His essential being. If you described all the properties of something you would be describing what it is, its essence. Just so, if you could describe all of God’s attributes you would be describing His essence, who He is.
Obviously, we do not know everything there is to know about God. We are limited to what He has revealed about Himself in His Word. And with our finite minds we cannot even comprehend all of that. But what we do grasp of what He has revealed can enrich our existence on earth immeasurably and provide us greater pleasure than any other pursuit in life. It brings us into personal touch with the living God.
There is also a debate among theologians concerning how the attributes of God are to be classified and cataloged. Some distinguish His natural attributes from His moral attributes, that is, those that belong to his constitutional nature in contrast to those that qualify him as a personal, moral being. Others separate the communicable attributes from the incommunicable, that is, those that can be understood by comparing them to something in human life in contrast to those that have no human counterpart. Others insist there are immanent attributes that relate to God as He is, and transitive attributes by which He reveals Himself to His creation. Why do we need to classify God’s attributes? He is who He is. I would prefer simply to know Him as He is and not try to pigeonhole each attribute.
As we see God reveal Himself in His Word we may say at times, “That is not the way I have always thought about God.” But what we have always thought is not particularly important. Concentrating on that may only confuse us. We need to focus on what God has told us about Himself. For example, if I have preconceived ideas about you that are inaccurate, yet I continue to hold on to those ideas after you tell me the truth about yourself, I will obviously never get to know you. I must accept what you tell me about yourself. Just so, when God tells us who He is and how He acts we need to believe Him. That is essential to knowing Him. But there is still something more that we need to understand.
Involve Your Entire Being. After the desire has been cultivated, and the decision to accept what He reveals has been made, there must be a definite commitment to Him that involves our total being. In our human illustration, I cannot get to know you intimately unless I commit myself to spend time with you, take an interest in what interests you, get concerned about what concerns you, and rejoice in what brings joy to you. I must become totally involved in your life. Unfortunately, many of us have stopped short of that point in our knowledge of God.
If we really want to know Him, it is going to involve our total person—intellect, emotions, and will. Unfortunately, we live in a day of extremes. On one hand are the superintellectuals who know all the doctrines about God, yet feel nothing in their relationship with Him. On the other hand are the supersentimentalists who can drum up a great emotional religious experience, but do not know the facts about God. In between are all kinds of people who say they know God yet do not exercise their wills to obey Him.
All three parts of our personality are involved in knowing God. First, we learn about Him with our intellects. We study the Word, absorb the information He reveals about Himself, meditate on it, then think through its implications and applications to our way of living. That is all the function of the mind. The mind must be involved in knowing God. If we do not have accurate information about Him, we cannot say we know Him.
But we must not stop with the mind. As we learn more about Him we become more emotionally involved with Him. And that is nothing to be afraid of. There is no reason to back away from the emotional expression of our faith. When we see the depths of His love for us it might well bring tears to our eyes or shouts of joy to our lips. It will certainly inspire greater love for Him. When we understand the far reaching implications of His goodness and grace toward unworthy sinners such as we are, we may burst into song, even if we cannot carry a tune. When we realize how deeply we have hurt Him by our sin we will feel grief. When we experience the reality of His forgiveness we will feel relief, and love, and joy, and a sense of security. When we see people spurn Him our hearts will be saddened. These are all emotions, and a true knowledge of God cannot eliminate them.
But we do not stop with an intellectual knowledge of the facts and some exciting emotional experiences. We must do something about what we have discovered. We must choose by an act of our wills to live in a manner consistent with the information we have received and the feelings we have encountered. Not everyone does that. Paul told us about people who professed to know God but denied Him by their deeds (Titus 1:16). John went so far as to say that the person who says he knows God but refuses to obey Him is a liar (1 John 2:4).
Let’s go back to the human illustration again. If I have gotten to know you intimately, you will expect certain things from me, things such as loyalty, faithfulness, trust, fellowship, an open sharing of myself with you, and a desire to please you. Those are things I must choose to do by an act of my will.
We cannot really say we know God just because we have accumulated some facts about Him or had an emotional experience with Him. If we truly know Him we will choose to do what He wants us to do. We will talk with Him, freely tell Him what is going on inside us, honestly admit where we fall short of His expectations, implicitly trust what He tells us, depend on Him, submit ourselves to Him, obey Him, and worship Him all because of who we have discovered Him to be. As we relate to Him in that way our personal knowledge of Him will grow even more meaningful and fulfilling.
Our willingness to obey God can increase our understanding of Him immensely. For example, if I express my willingness to obey your instructions, I am going to learn a great deal about you from the things you ask me to do. The more I obey, the more you will instruct me, and the more I will learn. When I stop listening to what you want me to do I will stop growing in my knowledge.
Anne Sullivan, who tutored the blind and deaf Helen Keller, recognized that it was useless to try to teach her anything until the young girl learned to obey her. She became convinced that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge enters the mind of a child. The same is true for the child of God. Obedience is the gateway to our knowledge of Him. Some of us have reached a roadblock in our relationship with God. Knowing Him better will first require yielding our wills to Him fully and deciding to obey Him unreservedly.
If that issue is settled and you want to go on growing in your knowledge of God, I would like to help by bringing together some of the information He has revealed about Himself in His Word. I feel most inadequate to do that, but I want to try. The rest is up to you. You will need to believe what God says, then commit yourself to total involvement with Him. It may mean some changes in the way you live, but the benefits will be enormous. Maybe it would be profitable to review a few of those benefits before we go on to explore God’s attributes. That is the purpose of the next chapter.
Determine first that you will ask God daily to show you something about Himself, and secondly that you will read some portion of Scripture daily, looking for some truth about Him. Begin right now.