Can We Know God Personally?
Anyone can know God personally. Anyone can know His character. Anyone can know His intentions.
I am a Christian because I became convinced at last that God is discoverable.
Dr. J.B. Phillips calls us the "visited planet." We are. If I did not believe that we are, I would by now be involved in no religious pursuit. If I had not become irrevocably convinced that God has personally involved Himself for all time with the human race, I would not be a Christian.
I am a Christian because I now know that God Himself paid a visit to this earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. Around this fact my life is forever centered down.
At the age of thirty-three, I had almost lost interest in finding the key to why I am here. My study of the philosophies had stimulated my mind, but it left my heart empty. My study of many of the other religions of the world left me exhausted. I knew that in me, at least, was not enough desire to "know righteousness" to go through the elaborate intellectual and spiritual gyrations required by them to "reach God."
Metaphysics interested me. But I demanded a great
deal from life in the way of emotional release and fulfillment and the provocative but arid metaphysical principles left me longing.
I was bored by Buddhism. I ached for action and the creative stimulation of personal reaction and desires fulfilled. Nirvana, the sought-for state of desiring nothing, which is the Buddhist's goal, left me cold and uninterested. I saw quickly that I could never settle for nothing. In my life there would have to be something, even if it destroyed me.
The Analects of Confucius kept my mind occupied hour after hour. But my heart and my spirit roamed aimlessly, as with the Vedantist's pale, pulseless striving for contact with some vague All Good.
I plumbed the self-development cults and talked eagerly with those who felt convinced that everything lay in the realm of our minds, positive and negative. I saw some hope here, since in many ways life seemed to back it up. But when I saw the ardent followers of the All Good Universal Mind capable of the same variety of venom as mine when their rights were stepped on, I began to pull away. More than that, I deeply feared death, either my own or the death of the few people whom I really loved. And nothing about an intellectual refusal to accept death as reality even remotely began to dissolve the fear that fastened more tightly around my heart with each passing year.
Up to then nothing really tragic had happened to me. But I was realistic enough to know that no human being is immune to tragedy and suffering and death. In philosophy and in religion I hunted almost feverishly for some answer to the heartbreak I knew was up ahead for me. (As you read the pages of this book, you will learn how my fear was gradually loosened on this point).
Perhaps most of all, I was concerned (when I dared to face it) with the wild horses of my own make-up.
Everything I tried, no matter how carefully or how skillfully, left me eventually, still searching. Would I always be restless and uneasy when I was alone and quiet? Would I always have to wonder why I had chosen to earn my living by writing words for other people to read and hear, when around my own heart I dragged the sometimes intolerable weight of my own enormous question mark about life?
Metaphysics and self-development and the philosophy of the Vedantists did not hold me. I had no desire to escape life. I wanted more of it! I was willing to take my chances on the suffering and the heartbreak if only I could find enough of it to fill the gaping space, empty of everything but my giant question mark.
In retrospect, I see now that I was more than willing to open my arms and my heart and my mind to anything that seemed vital enough. The trouble was nothing did for long. I longed to worship something or someone. I loved literature and writing and for many years I worshiped the muse herself. But she was utterly dependent upon me! And I knew I was not dependable enough to satisfy my constant longing.
My life was often interesting, often highly enjoyable, often fulfilling. But not for long. Ultimately, I would find myself alone again and forced to think. And to know that although I had searched diligently, I had not found.
Time after time I gave myself wholly to one idea or another. To one pursuit or another. Time after time I found that the thing to which I had so wholeheartedly given myself, had dwindled away.
Soon there was little or nothing there.
And then, by a set of circumstances related in my book, The Burden Is Light, I discovered to my great, glad amazement that I could know God!
I hadn't thought of Him much in ten years, but swiftly and relentlessly my heart began to be dented by one
divine impact after another. Gentle at first, the realization blows increased in strength and I was at last graciously struck to my knees. Not in shame at once, but literally struck to my knees by the sudden shock of realizing that although I hadn't thought about God at all for ten years, He had never once taken His thoughts from me.
He loved me. He had lovingly and carefully and slowly brought me to the only place of potential fulfillment for anyone face to face with Himself.
So sharply did the realization of His love strike me that my old question of the existence of a Personal God dropped away without my noticing.
There He was confronting me.
Of His existence I then had no doubt. Of His holiness, I had no doubt. Of His power, I had no doubt. But what was His heart really like? Would He remain remote and holy and high? Would He keep me on my knees fighting off the shame and the guilt which slowly began to cover me?
Was this what God had to offer?
I felt helpless, weak, unworthy. It was depressing, frightening, confusing.
I was undone. I had come apart at all my well-guarded seams. I knew I would never amount to anything without Him, and yet this was my life He was demanding! The most precious thing I had ever owned. At that moment it seemed more precious than ever before.
Had He really known all about me through the years in which I searched? Could He really know what would fulfill my longing? Surely I had never, never been so attracted to anything or anyone before. But could I really trust Him? What of all the suffering in the world? The tragedy? Did He care about it? Did He really understand human nature? Could God possibly know what it's like to be one of us down here?
Even if I agreed to the fact that He was a Creator God, how could I be sure that anyone great enough to create a complex human being could know how it feels to be one? To be trapped in a body on an earth full of strong down-pulls and all right, I would even use the words I had long ago struck from my vocabulary: How could He know what it's like to be tempted to sin? To worry? To be afraid?
For a long time I had to put aside anyone's concept of the Cross and the theology of redemption. I was much more concerned with God Himself. Was it possible to know this One who demanded to be my Master?
Could any human being ever really know God personally?
Could I learn something of how His mind worked? Or was I supposed to stay on my knees with my head down and just trust without actually knowing much about the Person who asked me to give Him my life?
This is the place He longs to bring each one of us at least once in our lives. Because even above His Cross, even above His work of redemption, even above a desire for eternal life, He wants us to be concerned with Him personally.
It is not God's way to tell a struggling human being that he is to believe simply because God is God. He asks no one to accept grief and tragedy and suffering patiently just because He is who He is. He wants us to know what He's like! For this very reason God paid a visit to the earth. He knows that no human heart can trust Him in the deep places until that human heart knows Him as He is.
He doesn't expect it of anyone.
God prefers honest rebellion to the whipped dog acquiescence of a human being just because it is supposed to be the pious thing to do.
He limited Himself to our earthly existence in the
Person of Jesus of Nazareth, so no one from any background would ever again have to wonder about Him.
All that could be contained of God in a human being broke into human history when Jesus was born. Think through the Old Testament. Or, if you haven't read it yet, consider this: Over and over again, God's chosen people misunderstood Him. They felt duty bound to obey Him, and for short periods they did fairly well at it. Then off they would go again on another idolatrous riot of disobedience and rebellion. God understood this. And so He came Himself, in Jesus Christ, to set us straight about Himself once and for all.
Did God reveal Himself fully in Jesus Christ?
Yes, He did. John wrote in the first chapter of his Gospel, "No one has ever seen God; (but) the only-begotten Son, who abides at the Father's bosom, He has made Him known."
God has seen to it that to every man and woman and child, He is knowable. He knew He had to make Himself available and knowable in a way we could grasp. We can know another human being. This is not beyond us spiritually. And since He knows our capacities and our limitations as no other living person, He visited the earth because He had to visit it. There was no other way in which we could grasp fully the true intentions of our Heavenly Father toward us all.
Anyone, anywhere, can know God personally through Jesus Christ. Anyone, anywhere, can know God's intentions toward the whole human race. Now that I know this, although my questions are not all answered, my giant question mark has somehow disappeared. After ten years of belonging to Jesus Christ, I know now that at last I have unreservedly given myself to Someone who will not dwindle away.
"Lo, I am with you always."
Chapter Three || Table of Contents