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On Knowing God and Knowing About God

William Luther White, in The Image of Man in C.S. Lewis, writes that...

"Though his respect for clear, logical thought was high indeed, Lewis did not make rational investigation an end in itself.  He pointed out in Psalms that to be a great theologian is not the same thing as to be a good Christian.  His statement reminds us again of Kierkegaard's famous question, 'Can a theologian be saved?'  There is more to both life and faith than sheer reason" (White, 104).

This question, 'Can a theologian be saved?', raises the issue of knowledge.

What does it mean to know God?

I was reminded of this question as I was going through Paul's letter to the Colossians the other day and I stumbled upon this note that 'past-me' left 'future'me' (i.e. me reading this passage right now).

epignosko - Greek term for knowing

Knowledge comes in different forms.

Propositional knowledge, knowledge of or about something, is different than knowledge by acquaintance.

I may know that my husband is a brilliant mathematician, that his favourite food is pizza, that he is 5 foot 9 and 185 pounds, but knowing a list of facts about him is different than actually knowing - being acquainted with - the person.

The same goes with knowing God and knowing about God.

We might know a whole list of things about God: that He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, that He became incarnate in Jesus Christ and died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins....

Heck!  We might even be able to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity, the history of the early Church, and explain exactly why Jesus had to die on the cross... What He accomplished in His death and resurrection, how it affects humanity, whether or not is is logically consistent, whether it is useful to still speak in terms of substitution and propitiation....

But knowing all of these things about God, even if we know them really, really well, is not the same thing as knowing God, being acquainted with Him on a personal level and entering into relationship with Him.

And if we believe that our God is a living God, that Christ is risen, and that the Holy Spirit lives in each one of us, then we must make the step from knowledge about God to the personal relationship sort of knowledge.

This call to know God in this way is all through the New Testament.

When Paul writes to the Colossians that...

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9)​.

...he uses the Greek word epignosko, meaning knowledge by acquaintance, not propositional knowledge.​

It is this personal knowledge that leads to wisdom and understanding.

We are not called to know things about God...

....though this knowledge about God is crucial for a strong and defensible faith.

(Like Lewis, I cannot understate the importance of reason and propositional knowledge when it comes to informing a faith and giving reasons for the hope that is in us.)

...all knowledge about God is meant to lead to personal knowledge of Him.  To have complete knowledge of His will in the sense that we walk with Him, hand in hand and step by step...

....knowledge of God's will is not knowing a list of rules.

It is rather like letting Him into our hearts, conforming our desires to His, crying out for help and guidance when we stumble in the darkness.

It is letting Him guide us, even when our wills may be resistant.

It is engaging in dialogue (more on prayer later...) and asking Him to lift us up and lead us in the right direction.

This is rather more like epignosko than simply knowing a list of rules. 

And so it is that we may ask that God give us complete knowledge of His will.

Guide me, speak to me, let me get to know you so that I may conform my will to yours.

No wonder that Kierkegaard was apprehensive.

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