Knowing about God versus Knowing God
“…if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and our grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens” (Knowing God, p. 17).
If you know me, you know that I love to read Christian books on doctrine and theology. After reading this chapter, I was convicted that I typically read Christian literature with the wrong motivation. Many times I read books to satisfy a desire to gain intellectual knowledge rather than as a means to know my Savior, Jesus Christ. This is evident because occasionally I’ll read a book and not really like it because I think, “That’s nothing really new. I already knew most of that.” This is revealing of my pride and arrogance. As Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit, “…knowledge puffs up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). I believe that I even do the same with Scripture at times. I can be tempted to search and study the Bible in order that I can win a theological debate (which doesn’t happen often) or to get some ideas on how to counsel a friend. Now of course the Bible reveals truths about God that we should contend for and it is useful for correction or encouragement (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but God’s Word is primarily a means of knowing the personal God it reveals. It is more than an instructional handbook for life or a theological dictionary; it is the way to commune with the Sovereign Creator of the universe. This truth was a helpful reminder in setting the stage to begin reading this book (and any Christian book for that matter).
“Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself the better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply the doctrine of God’s attributes, but the living God whose attributes they are. As He is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so He must Himself be the end of it.” (Knowing God, p. 18).
Towards the end of the chapter, Mr. Packer had some insightful thoughts on the practice of meditation. Some of it reminded me of C.J. Mahaney‘s message on Psalm 42, The Troubled Soul: God’s Word and Our Feelings, preached at this year’s New Attitude. Meditation is a discipline I am trying to grow in as I hide God’s Word in my heart and memorize Scripture. Anyway, here’s the quote:
“We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask; for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. It’s purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let His truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory, and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us–‘comfort’ us, the old, strong, Bible sense of the word–as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Knowing God, p. 18-19).