Knowing Is Everything
Knowing is everything. Everyone wants to know stuff. It’s why we read the news. It’s why we subscribe to magazines & publications. It’s one of the reasons we surf the internet. Facebook is popular because we get to discover— to know—what our families, and friends are doing. We “Yelp” and probe its reviews to unearth the best and tastiest restaurants in town. We even tweet. Simply put, knowing satiates our inner drive to discover, to find things out. And, we, as human beings are curious creatures.
And, knowing. . . “stuff” is important. For example, it was crucial that the health officials (CDC) understood how the two nurses from Texas and the physician traveling from Ghana contracted ebola—to prevent the further spreading of this toxic disease. It’s important to citizens in this country that the intelligence community understand where religious extremists who mean Americans harm are located, and when their next move may occur. And I can guarantee if you needed intricate brain or heart surgery, you wouldn’t want some rookie intern operating on you! You’d want an experienced specialist who’s done it a hundred times!
We’re individuals that desire to know; and knowing is essential. BUT, knowing everything & anything isn’t what’s crucial. Knowing may be everything; but, knowing everything, ISN’T everything.
For you and I, it’s about knowing One thing—and that’s God.
And our eternal life depends on it! John 17:3 states, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Knowing who God is, experientially, intimately, is crucial to our experience as Christians.
In the words of Ellen G. White: “The whole spiritual life is molded by our conception of Him, and if we cherish erroneous views of His character, our souls will sustain injury” (Review & Herald, Jan 14, 1890).
In other words, your Christian experience: how you live it, perceive it, feel about it, do it, and ultimately, your soul—is affected by what you & I know of God.
This is because what you know of God determines—first of all, for the individual prior to conversion—how they’ll react to the notion of God; and secondarily—as Christians—how you’ll experience God on a day-to-day basis.
Speaking to the first point, it’s no wonder there are so many atheists in our society. I’m not excusing any decision made by an individual who rejects God, but, Christians (in the broadest sense) are at fault for misrepresenting God, for example, in its theology—think, eternal burning hellfire—and in our atrocious acts of violence— think, the Dark Ages—when those who bore the name “Christian” executed countless peoples, both Christian, and otherwise.
And this has been Satan’s purpose all along! Ellen G. White states: “[Satan] has sought to misrepresent the character of God, to lead men to cherish a false conception of Him. The Creator has been presented to their minds as clothed with the attributes of the prince of evil himself,—as arbitrary, severe, and unforgiving,—that He might be feared, shunned, and even hated by men. Satan [has] hoped to so confuse the minds of those whom he [has] deceived that they would put God out of their knowledge. [He] would obliterate the divine image in man and impress his own likeness upon the soul; he would imbue men with his own spirit and make them captives according to his will” (Testimony Treasures, vol. 2, p. 334).
Certainly, we see this phenomenon taking place today.
But, I want to turn our attention to the second point. What you know of God determines the outcome of your spiritual experience, and in this way.
Think of a dog that’s been physically and “psychologically” abused by a previous owner. Once that dog’s rescued, and no matter how nurturing the new owners may be the conception of that innocent animal, of humans, will be skewed. A hand gesture of love, no matter how pure and tender the intentions may be will be misinterpreted by the dog. It will cower and cringe from the new owner. What the dog knows of humanity determines how it will react to any and all gestures of both loving and hateful human beings.
In the same way, your knowledge, more precisely, your accurate (or misguided) perception of who God is will determine the outcome—whether positive, or negative—of your experience with God and your understanding of God. And if your conception of God is based on what is true of God, there will be a cognitive coherence between your positive experience of Christianity and your rational understanding of God.
But we need to understand something. There are many impediments to knowing and understanding God in the correct sense.
First of all think of all the ways we derive our understanding of God, and where it could go wrong.
From the onset, we obtain an understanding of God from our home—mom & dad. And by God’s grace, parents do their best, but every human being has misrepresented God in some way, shape, or form. Think of children who have been physically abused by Christian parents.
From there we obtain a picture of God from church, our pastors, and its members. I could list stories of how priests, and individuals who bear the name “Christian,” permeate hatred and ill-will instead of love and altruism. Christians, and sadly many Seventh-day Adventists have become so politicized we have forgotten our sense of mission and identity.
And as I alluded to previously, we also adopt an understanding, or misunderstanding of God from our doctrine & theology.
For many, especially non-Christians, the notion of the Christian God is derived from the media and popular figures and politicians: whether it’s former president Bill Clinton or President Obama on the Left; or Ronald Reagan or George Bush on the Right.
Additionally what many know of God comes from prominent Christian leaders like the pope, Joel Olsteen, and the ascending, popular Carl Lentz of the Hillsong NYC Church, where church is more about being “cool” and “hip” then it is about adhering to the truths of Scripture. And I’m not saying here, that Adventists shouldn’t be relevant.
The thrust of this article is a simple one. Knowing is everything, and the most important thing you and I need to know and to discover is a true conception of God.
But, as I’ve been suggesting, this is easier said than done. Scripture, and the pen of inspiration teach explicitly that man cannot of himself, through himself arrive at a true conception of God—by this I mean through our intellect, intuition, and the pursuit of mere facts about God.
Ellen White states: “No man, without divine aid, can attain to [the] knowledge of God” (Testimony Treasures, p. 334).” 1 Corinthians 2:11 and 14 informs us that “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” and that “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
I want to suggest another idea. We cannot know God, who He is, what He is—in the quintessential, ultimate, deeper sense—in terms of His qualities and attributes, and the essence of His love & character, without becoming like Him. Only like can appreciate like. Only a Vietnam or World War II vet can truly appreciate the heroism, the atrocities, and nightmares forged on the bloody ditches and ravines of Southeast Asia and Normandy.
Our capacity to understand & know God is limited; we’re restricted by the boundaries of our subjective capacity and limited experience. We can only truly understand what we, ourselves, have experienced.
Consequently, we can only comprehend of God & His attributes—in this sense—to the extent that we become like Him when we live out His life in our own—a life of self-sacrificing love.
In other words as Jesus’ renewing power transforms us, and as we grow to reflect His character we will begin to understand Him more through the lens of our personal regenerated experience.
Sister White puts it this way: “Only like can appreciate like. Unless you accept in your own life the principle of self-sacrificing love, which is the principle of His character, you cannot know God. . . . We discern the truth by becoming, ourselves, partakers of the divine nature” (MB 24, 27).
Let me illustrate this point in two ways:
There was a time whenever my brother and I visited our home we would wake up to fresh-squeezed orange juice on our side-table by the bed. Every morning my mom would squeeze orange juice for us! And I took it for granted. Yes, I knew my mother loved me. And I certainly appreciated the orange juice! With all those little-bitty pieces of juicy pulp.
But one morning, my mother asked me to make the orange juice for the whole family, including extended family who were visiting at the time. It wasn’t until I began to cut each orange, and painstakingly squeeze what seemed like hundreds of oranges that I began to appreciate the sacrifice and love of my dear mother.
Only like can appreciate like.
As a new father of a 2-month old I have begun to cherish, love, and appreciate my parents now more than ever—because I understand the love, the sacrifice, the selflessness, the sleeplessness nights, and hours spent washing & steaming baby bottles, doing extra loads of laundry because of the burped milk on all my shirts, and the changing of dirty, pungent diapers. It never ends, because love never ends. I have begun to see as every father sees, the love it takes to grow a child.
The experience of sanctification—the life of a converted, surrendered, self-sacrificing Christian—informs our understanding of God. And as the love of God begins to stir in our hearts we respond to Him by becoming like Him, and as we become like Him we begin to appreciate in greater and deeper ways the character and love of God for you, me, and a dying world.
To become like Jesus and to reflect and share His love to a perishing humanity is THE most important mission of every Seventh-day Adventist.
Ellen G. White states: “It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is enshrouding the world. Men are losing their knowledge of His character. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. At this time a message from God is to be proclaimed, a message illuminating in its influence and saving in its power. His character is to be made known. . . . There is nothing that Christ desires so much as agents who will represent to the world His Spirit and character. There is nothing that the world needs so much as the manifestation through humanity of the Savior’s love.” (COL 415, 419)
Knowing is everything. More specifically, knowing God is everything. But to know God, one must also become like Him. This is what sanctification is all about. It’s the process by which we grow to become like God in our characteristics and qualities. We begin to mirror His image, namely His love. This can only happen, of course, through the transforming power of God’s grace and Spirit.
In many segments of the church the notion of sanctification has been either undermined, or at the very least minimized. This, as I’m suggesting can be detrimental in our quest to know God. Really.
Because only like can appreciate like.