But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by Godâ€¦(Galatians 4:9a, ESV)
Iâ€™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.
Itâ€™s interesting to me that Paul interrupts himself in Galatians 4â€”almost corrects himselfâ€”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 thereâ€™s a reason to make such a distinction, and itâ€™s very important we make it.
Paul is making a reference to the incredible sea of Godâ€™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 Godâ€™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 crayonâ€™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 Godâ€™s knowledge of them. The lost sheep knew the shepherd, but how little he knew of the shepherdâ€™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.
â€œI know you.â€ 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 wifeâ€™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.