In 2005, I began a yearlong study of J. I. Packer’s wonderful book, Knowing God. Today I begin what will become a yearlong effort to write my own book along similar lines as Packer’s. You could say this study is one part tribute to Knowing God and one part response to what I experienced and learned while taking the journey that makes up the central theme of Packer’s book. I have read Knowing God numerous times; most of the occasions were while leading study groups using the book as a learning and discipleship tool.
I always told those who accompanied me on those journeys of discovery that no one who completes the study will be the same person who started the effort. That is because it is impossible to seriously engage the one in whom we live and move and have our being and not be forever changed. It is either because of the import of our decisions or because of our avoidance of the demands that the effort will place on our souls. I have experienced the effect of both courses, with my avoidance often being the more telling of the two.
Christian discipleship is predicated on the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. When a Christian attempts to study to show themselves approved, as Paul instructed Timothy to do, they rely on the Comforter promised by Jesus to lead them into truth. To do this, the Spirit of Truth must often become the Holy Discomforter, the one who challenges our cherished presuppositions in an effort to remove the dross from our understanding and give us a right and proper knowledge of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Packer related this attempt at pursuing knowledge of God to being a traveler, not just a person on trip, a vacationer, but a person who to their core was defined by their journey. He contrasted these wholly consumed God-seekers with those whom he called balconeers, people who had opted out and instead sat on the wayside and watched the travelers pass by, much like the spectators at the Tour de France who watch the cyclists labor through the stages of that demanding race.
I have always thought that Packer’s use of the balcony significant, because balconies look down on the road and those who are journeying on it. With that in mind, I want to expand the image and rename those who only watch to spectators. We all understand spectators; stadiums are filled with them. While they sit comfortably and watch the event unfold, they are far from passive. They cheer; they boo; they complain, voicing their criticisms; boy do they complain. Every spectator feels they are an in one form or another an expert and they are ready to let anyone in earshot know what they think about what is happening in front of them. The phrase “Monday morning quarterback” was invented to illustrate their penchant for knowing what should have been done after the fact, all the while still being safe from the necessity of actually having to make a real decision, being content to sit back and watch.
As the spectators shout at you, the traveler, they tell you that you are doing it all wrong. They will criticize your every move, trying to divert your attention from your journey to them. If you are not careful, they can cause you to lose focus, to redirect your attention away from what is essential. It is very important that you maintain a sense of where you are and what you are doing, so that you are not surprised by their antics.
Occasionally a spectator will dash out into the middle of the field or the race, in an effort at notoriety. They do not want to seriously compete, to make the sacrifices that course of action would demand; they just want everyone to know how self-important they are, since in their mind everything is really about them anyway. Here I am; look at me; Hey Charlie, everyone can see me.
When looking at the larger picture, one can see that both of these types of spectators are little more than distractions and are usually soon forgotten. Sometimes, however, they are more than mere annoyances and can cause real injuries to some of the travelers, tripping them, sending them off course or worse. Sometimes they are able to force everything to come to a stop while they are dealt with, smiling in their smug self-importance as they are led away. They have had their moment of recognition.
In closing this preface, you may want to know why I chose to use Yahweh in my title; why move away from the descriptive term, God that Packer used. There is only one time in the Bible where God is self-identified and that is when he responds to Moses in the beginning of the book of Exodus.
Then Moses said to God,