Theological Thursdays: Knowing God: Reviewing Section One

Knowing God: Review of First Section

Every Christian desires, as Packer titled his first section, to know the Lord. The word know carries in the Bible a dual connotation of both understanding and intimately experiencing something, so it is a good choice for the beginning section of Knowing God. Here Packer, in addition to introducing us to the concepts of knowing, applies that knowledge to the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Triunity of Christian belief.

If you are new to this study you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at

In the earlier posting on Section One I noted;

Packer begins by dealing with the nature and focus of the study. He looks at theology and the people who study it. He discusses the nature of knowing and being known and how that applies to our relationship with God. Then he looks at God himself and his revelation about himself as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He introduces the Trinity by way of the incarnation and fleshes it out with the one who testifies, the Holy Spirit. This section is the foundation for the other two sections.

I would add that it is also challenging, but brings with its completion several orders of magnitude greater appreciation and understanding of the truths and blessings that follow. This section is the foundation for both Section Two: Behold Your God, and Section Three: If God Be for Us…

It is important to remember that Packer does not title this section know your God, but know the Lord. Psalm 89:8 speaks to this

O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD , and your faithfulness surrounds you.

There a many people who believe in God, but have a very difficult time accepting him as Lord. They have a “he did his thing, I’ll do mine” sort of attitude to life. They are not really agnostic or even deists, who generally believe that God is irrelevant to their personal lives. No, they just have a problem with anyone, including God, telling them what to do. Because of that, intimate knowledge of their Lord and God is not a high priority, if any priority at all.

Turning to the book, it is hard to summarize the richness of the Preface and the first six chapters in one short posting but there are several high points we need to remember. But before we get specific, I would like to say that I find it very revealing that we call the prayer that Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer. While it is true that scripture portrays Jesus as Lord, the prayer he used to model all prayer harkens not just to our heavenly Father, but also to the One who is hallowed, the One who is coming, and One to whom and whose will we need to submit ourselves. It is a prayer in essence to the Lord of Lords, to the “who is like you?” of Psalm 89.

Let us start our review by remembering that we are called to be travelers, not balconeers, walkers, not watchers. Jesus desired those who take up their crosses and follow him. You cannot do that sitting on your rump in some safe dispassionate place, unengaged and uninvolved. You have to take the step out into the world, yet as Jesus cautioned, in but not of the world. This is both dangerous and consuming, but to remember Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount, what does it profit you to gain anything (safety, peace and quiet, whatever) and in the process lose your soul. So we begin by getting on that narrow road and following in the Master’s footsteps.

From there we embrace both the need of and practice of theology. We study God to know him, in the same way a husband studies his wife or a parent studies their child. This is were the Scriptures and meditation come into play, since our direct contact with God, by design, is limited. We read, mark, and inwardly digest to progress from knowing about, to the knowing of our God, the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

As we come to better know our God, we come to more completely trust him. And because of that, we like Paul can meet every circumstance of life, be it good or ill, because we too can do all things through him who gives us strength. We are not alone on our journey. He is there to share our joys and support us in our sorrows; to correct us when we falll and make mistakes and to tell us well done, calling us good and faithful.

With our coming to know God and our embracing of the journey we begin to throw off anything that would prevent our continued progress, especially the problems of idolatry. Nothing can replace the God we are coming to know. We distrust all non-symbolic representations of God since we immediately see the limiting factors these depictions place on the reality of the God with whom we have to do. We cannot box him in, limit him by our representations, no matter how lofty or seemingly effective they appear to be. In the end they are what they are, deceptions that limit he who cannot be limited.

But the Father, executing his plan of redemption, did give us one icon, one representation that was permissible, Jesus Christ his only begotten Son. Jesus is the icon of God. Our Lord told his disciples, in response to a request for him to show them the Father, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Yet this incarnation of the Word, the eternal Son into human flesh and human frailty carried within his being his own problems for our understanding and knowing of our God.

The incarnate Son introduced the concept of multiple persons in the one God of our Fathers. The famous passage from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” is only apparently in opposition to the idea of a Godhead of multiple persons as one God. The Hebrew word one (echad) in the passage, can also mean unity, among its other meanings, harking back to the words of God at man’s creation, “Let us make man in our image.”

Yet while we are still coming to terms with that profound revelation, we get introduced to the Holy Spirit, the one who testifies to, counsels, teaches, and comforts us, the third person of the Godhead. And despite definitive church counsels and creeds (Nicene and Athenasian) this understanding of the mulitple yet singular nature of our God has been an historic object of contention, both within and without the Church. I believe that Packer does an excellent job of making this doctrine at the heart of our faith both understandable and believable.

For many people studying this book, this first section is the first time they have ever had to fully and without evasion address the nature of God, the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This section prevents them from just letting the issues slide by, but forces them to address the triune nature of God head on. That doesn’t mean that Packer overstresses difficult theology. He doesn’t, yet he finds a way to present the issues clearly and effectively to even the least studious of Christians.

There is no way to complete this first section, to really read the arguments in the text and work through the study questions I have created, and still be the same person at the end. Each time I do this exercise, it changes me and I have seen it change everyone who goes through this effort with me. It will change you. You have to fight it and literally abandon the study for it not to have its effect on you. That is actually something to be embraced, for we are growing children in the faith, no matter how far we think we have come.

So, having accomplished this first section, we now have a foundation to proceed onto the next section which covers the attributes of God. It is aptly named: Behold Your God. Behold is an interesting word encompassing both seeing and understanding something. And, isn’t that what we really want? Don’t we want to both see our God and to understand him; don’t we want to really know him? With that purpose in mind we are prepared to move into the second section of Knowing God: Behold Your God.

Update 4-1: When I looked at this posting this morning I found so many errors that I had to re-edit the whole thing. If you already read this lesson you saw what I mean. I am sorry for the numerous lapses. Usually I finish the lesson long enough before I post it to allow me fresh eyes to edit it. This time I was rushed and posted the lesson just before leaving for the evening, to go to a dinner meeting of local Christian bloggers. Thank you for your patience.