October 17, 2017

iMonk Classic: In the End, God Knows Us (A Meditation for Friends)

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From May 3, 2009

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God… (Galatians 4:9a, ESV)

I’ve been teaching Galatians for over a year, and I happened to cross this verse this week, a week marked by the passing of one of my most significant mentors. She exemplified many things in my life, but one of the most significant was her amazing hunger for the teaching of the Word of God. She had a quick and focused mind that was always taking in a sermon or a book of theology or Biblical teaching. Right up until her last few months, she was accumulating knowledge about God.

It’s interesting to me that Paul interrupts himself in Galatians 4 — almost corrects himself — to say that the better way to describe the Christian experience is coming to be known rather than coming to know. People who make this kind of distinction can be a bit irritating.

But there’s a reason to make such a distinction, and it’s very important we make it.

Paul is making a reference to the incredible sea of God’s love and grace in which the believer finds himself. He may be learning about God, but when he looks up, the God that he is learning about has, in fact, dropped a few crumbs of knowledge onto his plate. Surrounding the believer is a vast ocean of God’s immensity, sovereignty, omniscience, omnipresence and goodness. In a lifetime, we see a speck of God in our tiny brains, but the God in whom we live, move and have our being surpasses every measurement and comparison.

This God knew us in eternity. He knew us before birth. His knowledge preceded us and meets us no matter where we find ourselves. His knowledge of us is encyclopedic, utterly honest, complete and compassionate. He will know us a million years from now in the same way, and we will only have begun to know him.

As the universe dwarfs our measly attempts at knowledge, so God overwhelms all the combined knowledge of every knowing being in the universe.

Our knowledge is a grain of sand, and yet we strut proudly. Our knowledge of God is the first crayon’s mark on a page to his million times magnified Shakespearean greatness. And yet we brag.

My friend would have been the first one to agree. What God has graced us to know of him in this life should be our passionate study, but God is not measured by what we know. That is why the most knowledgeable among us may, in the end, be the most humble or the most mystical. What God shows us is true, as true faith is based on truth. But our little books of God-knowledge are documentaries on a few caught reflections from a Sun we cannot bear to see.

If our hope comes to what we know of God, our knowledge has led us astray. What our knowledge has shown us is the wonder of being KNOWN.

The Bible is full of persons who believe they know God and are surprised to discover how little this matters compared to God’s knowledge of them. The lost sheep knew the shepherd, but how little he knew of the shepherd’s love for him. The prodigal knew his father, but never realized his his father knew and loved him.

My uncle was another of my mentors. He was a deep and insightful pastor with a mind that absorbed the scriptures. But the last year of his life, his mind betrayed him. He became someone else. Angry. Profane. It was a terrible time for his wife and friends. We could hardly stand to be near him. What happened to all he knew? What happened to that mind that taught all of us so much?

His brain was dying, as all of us should know. Many of us, sadly, will come to a similar place, often for much longer. What we know will be locked away or gone entirely. We may lose the knowledge of our spouses and children.

What will matter is this: Does God know us?

Many years ago, an aging pastor came to talk to me. He also was a very intelligent man. He taught Latin at our school. He wanted personal counsel. Age was affecting his mind and emotions. He doubted if God loved him. He was afraid of hell and frightened of death. He thought God had abandoned him for his sins. His mind had become a frightful and dark place, filled with paranoid thoughts. I tried to assure him of the love of God; the God he had known, proclaimed and believed in for so many years of faithful ministry.

His mind could not take hold of my words. All that was left were the fears and doubts he had suppressed throughout life. Now he was a caricature of himself, terrified and afraid of God.

A few months later, he was gone.

These were my friends. They read the books. Thought the theological thoughts. They taught, read, preached. They had knowledge of God.

In the end, their minds weakened, rebelled or turned on them. Knowledge disappeared.

But God did not. God knew them and God was with them.

This is the Good News. We are privileged to know God, and he reveals himself to us. But the God we come to know releases us from the trap of holding onto knowledge as our salvation. He comes to us as a Father, lover, mediator, gracious and all-embracing savior.

“I know you.” He said those words to my mentor, my uncle, my co-worker. They were never left to experience what they knew. They were taken hold of by one who loved them before, behind, around and to the uttermost.

An infant does not know anything about his/her parents. Knowledge will come, but life begins in utter vulnerability and trust. It is the love of mother/father for child that dominates our beginning. Recognition will come, but not at first.

So at the end, things are much clearer. Know God in the present and give all of mind and heart to the study of his Word and good thoughts about Him. But, in the end, lay down and rest. Lay down in him and go home.

A few months ago, we adopted a puppy. We had to drive 7 hours in the pouring rain to get home. All the way, she huddled herself in my wife’s lap, and never moved. She did not run, bark or panic. She rested in us and we brought her home.

You do not need to know the way home. Jesus is the way. He knows and loves you. You will be safe.

Read Psalm 139 to hear a beautiful and prayerful expression of what Paul is saying.

Comments

  1. I have read this chapter before, but never like that. You helped me look at things from a different perspective and I have found the amount I don’t know about God incomprehensible. Praise God He keeps us! in our youth how strong we think our strength is, but it is weak, then diminishes.

  2. An awesome classic! Thank you!

    It is an incredible hope that we cling to! No matter our state of mind, in sickness or in health, it is He that holds us and brings us Home.

    “The prodigal knew his father, but never realized his his father knew and loved him.”

    I know this statement personally! It is in the realizationof His knowing me and loving me that knocked me on my arse. Still does. I may not be worthy but boy oh boy am I grateful!

  3. dumb ox says:

    “In the end, their minds weakened, rebelled or turned on them. Knowledge disappeared. But God did not. God knew them and God was with them.”

    One couldn’t ask for a better explanation of grace.

  4. Karen Hess says:

    Thank you so much and I thank God for it also. My mother died last monday. Sh suffered with Alzheimers for ten long years. In this last year she has lived with me. There came a time when I wondered if she had ever believed in God. I wondered where her faith had gone.. How could it disappear and did this mean her faith was not real or in vain. Then one day I looked into her bible and found her markings (as I do). These encouraged me and reminded me that God knew my mom and she knew Him. It is sooo sweet to know that my God knows thus I do.

    • JoanieD says:

      Karen, I am sorry for the loss of your mother and how she suffered in her last ten years. That must have been very painful for you and your family. I wish you peace and strength in the coming years and I am glad that looking into her Bible encouraged you.

    • I, too, am sorry for your loss Karen! What a joy to know your mother has her memory back now! Enjoying the presence of Jesus that only those who have left this earth know first hand.

      I’ve often wondered what it would be like to see my parent’s Bibles. My dad, a pastor, would always put scribbly lines in his. As a little girl, I wanted to be just like my daddy and in my first Bible, which I still have, I have little scribbly lines. No doubt my oldest brother will get his Bible, but I know without a doubt there will be scribbly lines in it. My present Bible has straight lines……scribbly is just too messy for this perfectionist. Ha ha!

    • Karen,

      My condolences on the loss of your mom.

    • My condolences Karen!

  5. JoanieD says:

    I guess we could say that we now know that God knows us. He has always known us so it’s not really that we are coming to be known. We come to know that we are known. Semantics!

    It is amazing that God can know us with all our faults and still have an incredible love for us. Sometimes, I feel like such a fake, that I have no love for anyone or any thing and that I am selfish, shallow, boring, and just blah. I wonder sometimes if when everything is “burned away” in me that is not love, what will be left. Pray for me, fellow imonkers.

    • That, my dear friend is the amazing grace of the God we serve! I’d like to share a poem here, if I could. I think it will bless you Joanie and others, as it has blessed me any time I read it. I do not know the author, I retrieved it from a book a few years ago.

      The Quilt:
      As I faced my Maker at the last judgement, I knelt before the Lord along with all the other souls. Before each of us lay our lives, shaped into squares of a quilt, in many piles. An angel sat before each of us, sewing our quilt squares together into tapestries.

      But as my angel took each piece of cloth off the pile, I noticed how ragged and empty my squares were. They were filled with giant holes. Each square was labeled with a [art of my life that had been difficult – the challenges and temptations I faced in everyday life. I saw hardships that I endured, which were the largest holes of all. I glanced around me. Nobody else had such squares. Other than a tiny hole here and there, the other tapestries were filled with rich color and the bright hues of worldly fortune. I gazed upon my own life and was disheartened.

      My angel was sewing the ragged pieces together, threadbare and empty. She looked as if she were binding air.

      Finally the time came when each life was to be displayed and held up to the light, the scrutiny of truth. The others rose, each holding up his or her tapestry. So full their lives had been. My angel looked upon me and nodded for me to rise. My gaze dropped to the ground in shame. I hadn’t all the earthly fortunes. I had love in my life, and laughter. But there also had been trials of illness, and death, and false accusations that took from me my world as I knew it. I had to start over many times. I often struggled with the temptation to quit, only somehow to muster the strength to pick up and begin again. I spent many nights on my knees in prayer, asking for help and guidance in my life. I had often been held up to ridicule, which I endured painfully, each time offering it to the Father in hopes that I would not melt within my skin beneath the critical gaze of those who unfairly judged me.

      And now, I had to face the truth. My life was what it was, and I had to accept it for what it was.

      I rose and slowly lifted the combined squares of my life to the light. An awe- filled gasp filled the air. I glanced around at the others, who stared at me with wide eyes. Then I looked upon the tapestry before me. Light flooded the many holes, creating an image – the face of Christ. Then our Lord stood before me, with warmth and love in his eyes. He said, “Every time you gave over your life and troubles to me, they became my life, my hardships, and my struggles. Each point of light in your life came when you stepped aside and let me shine through, until there was more of me then there was of you.

      But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

      ….For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

      2 Corinthians 4:7,17

  6. Another Mary says:

    What a great post. It is so good to be reminded of these truths. I am grateful and humbled to realize that I am known by God. What a scary and comforting thought. Some days are so challenging and I seem to run on fumes and I barely know myself. I rely on this truth that it’s not always up to me. God’s bigness and holiness is able to overcome my smallness.

  7. This is an amazing post and could be a game changer for us that think we have to “do” rather than “be.” It goes so well with the posts Chaplain Mike has been writing about it being OK to just be a Christian. After many years of serving, I find myself with a chronic disease and it has changed much about how I live my live. Thanks be to God – I am know by Him.

  8. Beautiful post, and a reminder for me once again of why I so miss Michael’s voice here.

    For the past year, my own mother has been losing her memory, and a close family friend and mentor has deteriorated mentally to the point where she doesn’t even remember me. I visit them both and have come to many of the same conclusions as this post. They may not have the capacity to know me or God in any deep sense, but God knows and loves them. The best thing I can do is let them know that they are known and loved by me and by God.

    That is all they need. The older I get, in fact, the more I’m convinced it may be all any of us need.

  9. God knows and never forgets our elderly parents and relatives and cares how we treat them. I just was reading this yesterday and found it very moving:

    “He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother.” Sirach 3:3-4

    “My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering–it will take lasting root. In time of tribulation it will be recalled to your advantage, like warmth upon frost it will melt away your sins.” Sirach 3:12-15

  10. dumb ox says:

    From the opening paragraphs of “Free to Be”, co-authored by James Nestingen Gerhard Forde:

    “God has made a decision about you. He hasn’t waited to find out how sincere you are, how devout or religious you might be, or how well you understand the Bible and the Catechism. He hasn’t even waited to find out if you are interested or willing to take his decision seriously. He has simply decided…He didn’t decide without knowing anything about you, though. God knows you better than anyone else could…But that hasn’t stopped him. His decision is made. He comes straight out and says to you: ‘I am the Lord your God’. That is his decision-to be your God…He is not saying, ‘I will be your God when you are good enough, devout or religious enough; or when you show me that you really mean business’…He isn’t going to be your to be your God just for a time being, until you’re 18, or until a better prospect comes along…but for all time, now and forevermore.”

    • dumb ox says:

      He will still be our God, even after “the the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’ (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7).

      This is such good news, in an age when evangelicalism typically worships youth, strength, gifts, and abilities, and sweeps the elderly, weak, struggling, doubting, and the unassuming to the corner with the rubbish. “Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15b).

  11. Andrew says:

    When the iMonk was good, he was very good- he had some serious game. Way off topic, and I apologize, but I hope one day to see these “classic iMonk” essays collected in published form. Waterbrook, if you’re reading, get on that.

  12. “This is the Good News. We are privileged to know God, and he reveals himself to us. But the God we come to know releases us from the trap of holding onto knowledge as our salvation. He comes to us as a Father, lover, mediator, gracious and all-embracing savior”.

    This is truly good news for someone like me.