Posts Tagged With: knowledge of God

The Personal God Who Makes Himself Known

“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth” (Psalms 145:18, ESV).

As a personal God, the Lord seeks to be personal with His people. Psalm 145 praises God for numerous ways that He reaches out to His people, showing them His mercy and love. Take some time to read the entire psalm when you have a chance.

God intimately cares about the people He created. He did not merely create the universe and sit back to watch the show. He intervenes in the lives of His people. He wants us to reach out to Him in faith so that He can respond to us in love and mercy.

In the Old Testament, He revealed Himself to His people through His mighty acts of deliverance and provision. The Exodus from Egypt is a great example of this. So is the restoration of the Jews following the Babylonian exile. The Old Testament records His miraculous acts by which He revealed Himself to His people, along with laws and prophetic messages that revealed His will.

However, He wanted more. He is a personal God. An invisible God performing visible miracles was not sufficient. God wanted to draw a people to Himself personally and intimately.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV).

The ancient Jews of Jesus’ time would have thought that God’s highest revelation of Himself was the Law of Moses. The Bible did not offer philosophical explanations about God. It contained stories about what He had done in their lives, laws to explain His will, and prophetic messages announcing what He would do in response to people’s choices. However, in Christ, God went beyond that. God most fully revealed Himself by becoming a man and living among humans as one of us. To know what God is really like, we no longer need abstract concepts. We have a living human God/Man. To know what God is like, we can look to Jesus.

When Jesus was born, God the Son became a man so that we can have a relationship with our Creator. “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst (ca. 1622, public domain, via Wikipedia).

Through Christ, God invites us to share in the relationship that exists between the Persons of the Trinity. The Father and the Son live in an eternal relationship. They were united and working together at creation. Jesus upholds the universe by the Word of His power. The Father has appointed Him heir above all things. By becoming part of a human family, living as part of a human society, and uniting Himself with all mankind, Jesus invites us to join in that relationship with Him. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created mankind in His image. Philippians 2:7-8 tells us that Jesus assumed human form and likeness. God and man became one in the person of Christ, so that we can experience the full intimacy with God that He originally intended.

Because of Jesus, we can echo the words of Job:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5, ESV).

Maybe we do not physically see Jesus walking around now, but we have a living human illustration of what God is like. We can leap beyond knowing about God (like some distant celebrity or historical figure), because He wants us to know Him personally (like a family member or friend). A personal God wants to be known personally, and He invites us to come to Him by faith.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Personal God Who Can Be Known

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few recent posts have reflected on Jesus’ statement that God is a spirit (here and here). While He is a spirit, He is also a personal Being who seek to be in a relationship with His people. We cannot afford to ignore His personal nature, assuming it contradicts His spiritual nature.

Scripture frequently speaks about the possibility to “know” God. This is a personal knowledge grounded in relationship.

There is a difference between knowing about somebody and actually knowing them personally. As a music lover, I can share a wealth of trivia about some of my favorite musicians. I can tell you the birthdays and birthplaces of each of the Bee Gees, along with the names of their wives, children, and the titles of all their albums. But, I have never met them. I know about them, but I have never had a personal relationship with any of them.

I can tell you my wife’s birthday, where she was born, and the names of her siblings and parents too. The big difference, of course, is that I actually know her personally. We have a relationship. We know things about each other that perhaps nobody else may know.

I also have friends whose birthdays I do not remember. Yet, unlike the Bee Gees, I actually know these people. There are some of whom I can say, “He reminds me of myself when I was his age.” We have connected, done things together, served the Lord in ministry, shared our victories and struggles, etc. Factual knowledge about my wife, family, and friends is surpassed by a personal knowledge and connection.

Job learned the difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally:

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6).

The previous 39 chapters of Job’s book recounted a debate between Job and his friends. Did Job deserve to suffer? Was God punishing him for some hidden sin that he would not admit? Was God being unfair by punishing Job for something without telling him what it was? It is tempting to accuse and blame God for things when you view Him as a distant entity, impersonal force, or abstract concept. Job struggled with these questions: Although God did not clearly answer his questions, He invited him to know Him personally.

Proverbs 9:10 parallels “knowledge of the Holy One” with “fear of the Lord.” To fear God is not necessarily to cower in terror. Many Bible dictionaries will define this kind of “fear” as “reverential awe.” Perhaps we can best think of it as giving God His due respect—taking Him seriously.

The person who truly knows God does not try to twist Him to his own liking. God is Who He is. We have to accept Him on His terms. People who know about a celebrity can easily idolize him or her, imagining their favorite singer or actor to be flawless. We might convince ourselves that “I’m sure I would like him even more than I like his music.” Since we only know about a distant celebrity, we may not know their weak qualities or annoying personality quirks that make them difficult to get along with, so we pretend such flaws do not exist. However, when we know someone personally, we have to accept both the good and the bad. Married couples and best friends know each other’s flaws and spend a lifetime learning to care for each other and get along in spite of them, perhaps being the people God uses to help them overcome their weaknesses.

Likewise, the true child of God knows Him as He is. We do not twist or distort the Bible to make Him what we want Him to be. We worship and revere Him for who He is. As a personal Being, we cannot change who He is. As our Ground of Being, Lord, and Savior, He is worthy of our praise and worship.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Spirit of Truth and the Necessity of Scripture

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Christians can make several mistakes when trying to find out God’s will for their lives. One is to read the Bible and try to figure things out with their own logic and reason. The other mistake is to expect the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us without the Bible.

The Bible tells us that God determines the number of the stars and calls them by name. Here is just a tiny fraction of them. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Wikipedia.

The Holy Spirit is not constrained by the Bible. God is bigger than His Word. His greatness and glory exceeds anything we can imagine. Psalms 147:4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars and gives names to all of them. Scientists are still estimating the number of stars, know they have not discovered all of them, and have named only a small fraction of them. According to Wikipedia, “Of the roughly 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye, only a few hundred have been given proper names in the history of astronomy.” Some scientists believe the universe contains 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, many more than mankind has seen. Yet, God has given names to all of them. This is just a hint of the greatness of God, but many of us are tempted to think we can contain Him. God is greater than anything we can imagine, even with the help He gives us by revealing Himself in His Word.

Thus, there is an even greater danger when we try to seek God’s will without His Word, like some people do. They rely on their own wisdom. Perhaps they learn something from pop psychology or the latest public-opinion poll, baptize it in religious lingo, and say, “God told me to do this.” If it clearly contradicts God’s Word, God did not speak to you.

“God told me to move in with this woman I barely know so that we can see if we should get married.” (I do not think so.)

“God told me to leave my wife and trade her in for a younger woman. After all, God wants me to be happy!” (No, you want to be happy. God wants you to be holy, but that’s for another article.)

“God thinks it’s OK if I cheat on my tax returns or steal supplies from my job. After all, He wants me to prosper. Besides, everybody does it.” (What part of “Thou shalt not steal” do you not understand?)

(PS: I would like to claim that I was being creative with those three quotes, but that is not the case. I know people who have said things very similar to these. Most of them have claimed that they are deeply committed Bible-believing Christians.)

We cannot know God’s will without the Bible. We also cannot know it without the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives. The two go hand in hand. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, but He will use the Bible to impart wisdom to us, and He expects us to use the Bible to confirm whether He is the One Who is speaking to us.

Knowing God’s will requires both. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the Word of God. The Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through the Word of God. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to truly understand the Word and will of God.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hard-Wired to Seek God

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent….” (Acts 17:22-30; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.)

How can we know God? How can we know that there is a God? And, if there is a God, how can we know what He/She/It is like?

These are important questions, from which many of the other great questions of life spring forth. These questions lay below the surface of many of our cultural debates. Later this week, I will attend the March for Life, because I believe abortion is immoral and should be illegal. Likewise, I believe homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, murder, stealing, and racism are sins. I believe that such actions and attitudes are completely opposed to God’s will for humanity. I believe they contradict the two great commandments spelled out by Jesus Christ: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). If there were no God, then perhaps survival of the fittest, as described in the theory of evolution, would be the greatest virtue. In that case, it might be okay to murder anybody who brings inconvenience into our lives, to have sex with anybody or anything (whether they are willing participants or not), or to pursue our own desires regardless of how it affects other people.

Likewise, if God was different from how I believe He is, my moral values would be different. What if the Lord of the entire universe was more like what the Bible calls “Satan” or a being from Norse or Greek mythology? Would my ideas about right and wrong be different?

Thus, the existence and nature of God are among the most essential questions all people must face. I will share a few thoughts in the next few posts about this. In a blog like this, it may not be possible to give a perfectly satisfactory answer that will address every possible proof or objection. Entire volumes of theology and philosophy have been devoted to this subject, yet great minds find themselves disagreeing about the existence and nature of God.

However, I will state from the beginning that I believe it is possible for a rational, intelligent human to believe in God. We can know God through a process that theologians call “revelation” or “illumination.” There are two broad kinds of revelation. General revelation is available to all mankind and allows us to know that there is a God. Special revelation (particularly, God’s Word, the Bible) lets us know what that God is like; it assures us that the One True God is the one revealed by Jesus Christ, not something similar to Satan or pagan deities.

Nevertheless, I will begin where C. S. Lewis began his proof for God’s existence. He and several other authors believe that human instinct can lead us to believe in God. In his classic book, Mere Christianity, Lewis began by showing that humans tend to believe in notions of justice, fairness, righteousness, and other moral and ethical ideals. We seem to assume that there are certain ideals that all people should accept (whether different cultures or religions agree about those ideals is a different question). We even cling to certain ideals when evidence might lead us to doubt them:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (Mere Christianity, p. 6)

Why do we believe in notions like kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice? Why do we think one is better than the other? Why do we believe that everybody should accept our conviction as the one true ideal? I mentioned the two great commandments of Matthew 22:37-40 a few paragraphs ago. Modern American culture has replaced Jesus’ command with a new value to cherish over all others: tolerance. We are told that you must tolerate diverse viewpoints and lifestyles, and it seems like most Americans cannot comprehend how someone can think other values take precedence over “tolerance.” In fact, they simply cannot tolerate anybody who will not worship at the altar of tolerance! Even when rejecting the biblical “intolerant” God (or, at least, rejecting the intolerant people who say they worship Him), they offer a godlike idea in His place.

Such craving for an object of faith seems essential to our being. It seems “hard-wired” into our psyches. In Acts 17:22-30, St. Paul observed that this instinctual spiritual craving had driven the residents of Athens to build an altar “to the unknown god” (apparently the numerous ones they already had names for and myths about did not seem sufficient). In 2004, geneticist Dean Hamer claimed to have discovered that humans carry a “God gene” which predisposes us to spirituality and mysticism. While it was a controversial theory—religious thinkers like theologian/physicist John Polkinghorne believe faith cannot be reduced to genetics and biochemistry—Hamer claimed his theory is consistent with the possible existence of God. In an article in the Washington Post, he said:

“Religious believers can point to the existence of God genes as one more sign of the Creator’s ingenuity — a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence.”

(Before you jump to the conclusion that Dr. Hamer is a Christian, I must point out that he is also partially responsible for promoting the common belief that homosexuality is a genetic trait. In the coming weeks, I may quote scientists whose statements suggest the possible existence of a supreme being or creator; not all of them believe that supreme being is the God of the Bible.)

Is the ability to believe in God or the desire to know Him hard-wired into our nature? It seems that humans by nature are disposed to religious conviction. Most human cultures have a religious tradition. Although Western society is drifting from a common belief in the biblical God and traditional religious faith, seeds of religiosity abide. I mentioned the almost religious deification of “tolerance” earlier. in addition, many people have adopted a faith in “the universe” as their higher power. Others adopt a faith inspired by the spirituality of the Star Wars movies, worshiping an impersonal “Force” that manifests itself in a light and dark side. In an age when many people claim humanity has become “too enlightened for faith in God,” many merely replace the God of Scripture with other “gods” of our choosing. We cannot seem to escape it. To quote lyricist Kerry Livgren from the 1970s progressive-rock band Kansas, “Everyone needs something to believe in” (from the song, “On the Other Side“).

This religious instinct helps inspire many people to seek Christ. I know many Christians (myself included) who say they came to faith in Jesus as a result of a spiritual-searching phase. Something inside us compelled us to seek answers to questions like, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of {my} life? Is there a God? Can I know Him?” I cannot honestly say that I chose to seek God; rather, I felt something compelling me to ask these questions. The Bible tells us that nobody comes to Christ without being drawn by God (see John 6:44). Perhaps He does that by somehow tapping into Hamer’s “God gene.”

In a way that might be difficult to understand or explain, God seems to find a way to reveal Himself to people even when they have no knowledge of His Name or Scripture:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16)

Something inside all of us gives us the opportunity to seek God. Another aspect of general revelation helps us to see His hand in action. We will see His witness in creation in a forthcoming post.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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