Theological Thursdays: Knowing God: Yes or No?

As previous readers of this blog know, I have been studying J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God since 1979. It was one of the first things we covered when I started a home Bible study that year. The book had a significant impact on my relatively new Christian life and I couldn’t wait to share that experience with others. I see Packer’s great concern as the concern found at the heart of the prime commandment expressed by Jesus in Luke 10:27

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

Packer asks, and I believe rightly so, how can you truly love what you do not really know? Fundamental, don’t you think? But before I deal with the premise of Packer’s book, I would like to take a moment to examine Jesus’ statement in Luke. This was not a new revelation. It finds its source in Deuteronomy 6:5. The Hebrew word for love in this passage is the basic generic word for love. It remains for both the Septuagint translation of the passage and its use by Jesus in the New Testament, which is also written in Greek, to define the meaning of love further. The word used in both of these instances is agape, which defines self-sacrificial love, the love that is expressed in John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”

Its form in both the Septuagint and Luke passage is the simple future indicative tense, which is often used in the New Testament to express a command. So the passage could easily be translated “You are commanded to love God with…”.

This agape love demands that we sacrifice everything for the Lord our God: our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength, the sum total of who we are and what we have. This demand feeds directly into the statement of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

God and Christ love us with a sacrificial love and together they command that we love them with the same love in return, a divine reciprocity, if you will. But to repeat Packer’s question, how can you love what you do not know? The corollary of course, is if you do not know God how can you claim to love Him? That is the whole premise of Packer’s book, to expose you to who God is, so you can come to know Him and then make an informed choice about your love for Him.

Could not that choice be to reject Him? Yes, but I have never studied Knowing God with someone who outright rejected God. Instead, I would say that everyone who has studied the book with me has said at some point during the study, “Bill, this is really hard.” I would also say that everyone who has studied the book with me has come face to face with something in the book that they don’t want to accept. At that point the question usually becomes, is this just Packer’s viewpoint, or is this the way God really is? That is a legitimate question. It is also a question each student has to resolve for themselves. What I will say at this point is that God is both easy and hard to know. Easy, in that He offers us salvation and healing for our souls and bodies. Hard, in that His demands are absolute and meant to break us, to separate us from the old man, being our solution to Paul’s lament in Romans 7:24.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

So, if you are interested in joining me in a study of Knowing God, stop in each Thursday and engage the current posting. All of the studies will be posted under the Knowing God category. You can also go to the Packer study pages on my personal website. They are the basis for what I am doing here. You are welcome to print them out and use them for your own personal study.

I pray that God will use this effort to help us advance in our knowledge and love of God, resulting in a real change in our Christian lives for the better. If that happens for even one additional person, this effort has been worthwhile. What is the perfection of one soul worth? More than all I possess.

  4 comments for “Theological Thursdays: Knowing God: Yes or No?

  1. Sozo
    November 4, 2004 at 11:23 pm

    I may take you up on that. I started ‘Knowing God’ about a year ago and then got distracted and didn’t finish. I’ve always intended to go to it and this may provide me the much needed motivation.

    Thanks!

  2. November 5, 2004 at 6:52 am

    >I started ‘Knowing God’ about a year ago and then got distracted and didn’t finish.

    I fully understand the problem. I have known many people over the years who have started Knowing God but have been unable to finish. I believe that the book is so demanding both personally and spiritually that without a disciplined approach and a community of support (which you get in a study group) it is difficult to complete. That is the main reason I am moving my study materials to the web, to try to help and support people like yourself in their attempts to finish this marvelous journey. As I said before, I do not know anyone who has finished studying this book who wasn’t deeply changed by it.

    Welcome aboard!

  3. Terry M
    December 1, 2004 at 2:48 pm

    I have ordered the book and plan to make it my study for 2005. This means I am starting out way behind everyone else, but thanks to your posting the study on the web, I won’t be too ‘out there’. But – I have to admit that I am almost afraid to make the commitment because ‘to whom much is given, much is required’. But I’m doing this anyway – with a prayer in my heart.

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