Friday, December 31, 2010

Experiencing God

One Christian lamented, “I would much rather experience God and feel Him close to me than to have a systematic theological exposition in an area of Biblical truth. In other words, I’d rather know God than to know about Him.”

Many of us feel this way, but few articulate our feelings in this manner. However, I don’t think that we can separate our experience of God from our knowledge of God. Let me try to illustrate. Before I came to know Jesus, I had a horrible and bloody chain saw injury. The chainsaw struck me in the head. When I raised my hands to my head to ascertain the damage and to see if I would have to push my brains back into my skull, I also found that my wrist was hanging half off, with the blood squiring out like an open spigot.

Laying in a pool of my own blood and thinking that any moment will be my last, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone. God was with me, and I was filled with such a love, joy and peace that nothing mattered, apart from the fact that He was with me and loved me. I was ecstatic. Even if I did die, having been filled with a sense of His sovereignty, I knew that He would be there with me!

While I convalesced four days in the hospital, my surgeon warned me that I would have to exercise my hand or loose its mobility, but I wouldn’t. I was still overwhelmed by the sense of His presence and majesty and knew that it wasn’t about me and my exercising, but about Him alone.

My knowledge of God was somewhat accurate but inadequate. I didn’t exercise my hand and therefore never regained mobility. I hadn’t been ready for such an infusion of His presence, and it proved harmful, at least in that one way. Reflecting back on that experience, I realized that if I were to always live with such a sense of intimacy, it would interfere with my living a constructive life. We first need the knowledge of God before we can adequately process the presence of God.

Besides, by acquiring a confidence in a Biblical understanding of God and His ways, we acquire a spiritual treasure of surpassing value:

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:2-3)

Wisdom and a knowledge of God are truly “treasures.” In fact, Peter taught that God imparts all His blessings to us as we grow in this assured understanding:

• Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
(2 Peter 1:2-3)

The way we know God is the way we experience Him. If we believe that He will condemn us if we don’t attain moral perfection, we will hate Him. Martin Luther had previously understood God in this manner and confessed that he hated Him. I think that it was in his Commentary of the Book of Galatians that he wrote:

“My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would satisfy Him. Therefore, I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him.”

However, after Luther came to a Biblical understanding of his Savior – he came to understand “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17) – his feelings about Him were radically altered:

“Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Therefore, I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

As his knowledge of God changed, his experience of God changed. No wonder the Prophet Jeremiah claimed that if we have anything to boast about, it is in our knowledge and understanding of God (Jer. 9:23-24).

I still think back longingly to my encounter with Christ 34 years ago. This is because it had been the last one. I used to wonder whether I was now doing something to block this experience, but now I know better. I know God, and that He gives us what we need and when we need it, although it might not feel that way.

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