Some don’t bother to develop their objective knowledge of God, somehow feeling that experiential knowledge is everything. But this is a false dichotomy. Knowing about someone is part of knowing them and to drive a wedge between the subjective and objective is foolishness.
I want to know as much about God as He is pleased to reveal and I also have a real thirst to know Him experientially.
We must beware the danger of sentimental views of our majestic God. We can be so excited about having personal access to Him and experiencing Him in an individual or private way that we can drift into an inappropriate perception of who He is. J I Packer said, ‘Today vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are.’ I wrote this quote in the margin of my Bible at Ezekiel 1 where the prophet’s vision of God’s presence and glory almost defies description. Personal yes, but beware the danger of a reductionism in your thinking that borders on blasphemy.
God is totally other but is willing for us to know Him.
Although J I Packer concedes, ‘A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him,’ he also says, ‘There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge.’
God in our own image
Without a true endeavour to study the Scriptures and discover what God tells us about Himself we are always in the danger of trusting in a god of our own specifications and preferences. Indeed, we can tend to make a god in our own image. We may have a preference for a cosy life and have dreamt up out of our own imagination a comfortable God who would never shock us. I have sometimes heard people say, ‘My Jesus would never do such a thing.’ The question arises whether ‘your Jesus’ is the authentic one!
No other subject needs our continued preoccupation lest we should drift away from the Scripture’s revelation. The Biblical God inspires fear, awe, love, devotion, worship, holiness, sacrifice, faith, courage and many other appropriate responses. To have a confused or obscured view of God can do us serious harm.
It’s possible to simply follow the crowd. We can echo their songs of praise or we can press on to know God and know all that we can possibly know about Him.
A W Pink says, ‘An unknown God can neither be trusted, served nor worshipped,’ adding, ‘The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of His perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture.’
Knowing the Biblical revelation leads us on to a personal experience of Him that reflects that revelation. We can arrive at very false conclusions if we approach things on a different basis. Hence, some whose church background has led them into devotion to Mary can have spiritual experiences which they interpret to strengthen that devotion instead of subjecting the whole thing to what the Bible actually says.
Beware building only on experience
Experience alone can be a faulty compass which leads us completely off course. So, for instance, some who have never experienced divine healing will argue that Jesus does not heal today instead of submitting their minds to what the Bible plainly teaches, that God’s very name is ‘I am the Lord who heals you’. An inadequate submission to Biblical truth can rob us of knowing Him in a dynamic way and experiencing Him in all His fullness.
The Bible’s revelation of God is not set out systematically or thematically. It often comes in the unfolding of stories where men and women discover one of His attributes and have the privilege of unveiling another of His names. Hence the discarded maid Hagar finds that she is not deserted by the all-seeing God and called Him ‘El Roi’ (the God who sees) (Gen. 16:13). Later, Abraham, in the midst of his heart-rending crisis in offering up his son on the altar, discovers ‘the Lord who provides’ (Gen. 22:14).
How many believers down through the centuries have celebrated that particular revelation of God? Hudson Taylor, the great missionary, led many hundreds of pioneers into inland China on the truth of the revelation that God would provide.
Applying Biblical revelation to our daily experience
We too can grow in our convictions concerning the attributes of God through applying the Biblical revelation into our daily experience.
Some people seem to hold a very high view of Scripture and will even argue about their apparently solid commitment to God’s sovereignty, but in their lives display a lack of confidence in Him; even sometimes demonstrating tense and fearful attitudes.
My original pastor would never have called himself a Calvinist and never preached reformed doctrine as such, but his whole life demonstrated a restful and secure trust in God which far surpassed many that I have since met who would argue vehemently for Calvin’s five points.
Getting to know God
I recall in my early 20s, when ‘living by faith’ as a door-to-door evangelist, trusting God to supply all my needs. Life was exciting, if a little scary at times. On one occasion, when funds were extremely low, I cried to God to speak to me from my morning Bible reading. I desperately needed encouragement and the bolstering of my faith.
Having prayed, I turned to my regular Bible reading and realised that I had arrived at Paul’s letter to Titus. My heart sank as I remembered that the book was largely about administration of the churches and the appointment of elders and deacons. Despondently, I began to read, but within two verses I encountered Paul’s wonderful description of the Lord as the ‘God who cannot lie’ (Titus 1:2). That was all I needed! I shouted for joy, sang and praised the Lord. Faith was rekindled, expectation arose and, praise God, once again funds flowed in. I was getting to know God.