“The God that I know would never disapprove of that.”
“The God that I know won’t accept attitudes like yours.”
“The God that I know would condemn that.”
“The God that I know doesn’t judge me, he forgives me.”
Have you ever heard statements like that? Does it ever strike you that a lot of people who call themselves Christians seem to know a lot of different Gods?
The reality is that scripture tells us that there is no way to truly serve God unless we know God. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? How can I please a boss when I don’t know what they expect of me? How can i please a friend if I don’t know what makes them happy? How can I please the state if I don’t know what the law requires?
When I don’t know, I do whatever seems right to me. That’s how the people of Israel managed their lives for a large portion of the time in which they were in the land of Canaan. When there were no judges to right the ship, no kings to (preferably) impose God’s law on them, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” according to Judges 17:6. With a lack of instruction in the law of Moses from the priests and Levites, no one knew what the law was, or maybe just didn’t care. And that lack of knowledge would haunt God’s people throughout their time in the promised land.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge – Hosea 4:6
For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge – Isaiah 17:10
But those verses are a little deceiving out of context, because it sounds as if there were a lot of people running around the country who didn’t know there was a God. Or didn’t know who He was. Or maybe didn’t know that He had any requirements of them. I don’t think that’s the case, as even in Isaiah’s time, people were still worshiping God. They were just worshiping other gods at the same time. And as it turned out, they weren’t actually worshiping God the way He had commanded them to do it.
In 2 Kings 22-23, the writer tells the story of King Josiah, who found the book of the law during a renovation of the temple. Upon reading it, he discovered that the people had been expected to observe the Passover feast—which they had stopped doing some time back. It’s not as if it would be intuitive for them to reason that if there’s a God, then He clearly must want them to celebrate the exodus from Egypt on an annual basis with a ritual feast. That’s the kind of thing God has to tell people for them to know.
I can climb every mountain in the world, gaze out over sunsets every day of my life, listen to the birds singing in the wind until my cares melt away, and not one second of that will instruct me on what God wants me to do with my life. Because it’s one thing to know there’s a God. It’s another thing to know God.
And God doesn’t simply give you knowledge. You have to work for it.
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. – Act 17:22-27
God isn’t easy to understand, let alone truly know. We read of God as being merciful and vengeful. Patient and fed up. Loving and punishing. Wanting all to be saved and yet unwilling to have fellowship with unrighteousness. Plenty of intelligent, thoughtful scholars have wrestled unsuccessfully with those seeming contradictions, and some have even left the faith because they simply didn’t think they made sense.
Because if they were God, they wouldn’t be like that!
The problem is, earthly wisdom and insights won’t bring us closer to God. They’re more likely to push us farther away.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21
God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we find God agreeing with us all the time, we might want to revisit the scriptures, because God does not make decisions that we would make. He sees more, knows more and understands more than we can ever process. So why do we assume that if we don’t think something’s a big deal, God doesn’t think it’s a big deal either?
We have one way to understand God: to listen to what God tells us about Himself, either through his prophets or through Jesus Christ, his son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus was God’s way of revealing Himself to mankind, taking on the form of a human and helping us to see God’s nature (John 14:9, 1:18) in a way we couldn’t understand through the Old Testament alone. And through the Spirit, Jesus passed that knowledge on to his apostles (Matthew 28:20, John 16:13-15), so that they could share that understanding with the world.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:14-17
We can’t assume that we’ll simply figure out God on our own. God’s plan for salvation of mankind rests on our willingness to listen to the gospel—all the gospel, not just the parts that “sound like what God would say”—and place our faith not in our own ability to intellectualize God’s divine nature or to feel some intangible sense that God loves me, but in the testimony of earthen vessels and a belief in a God who surpasses all understanding.