This is the seventh study on the Explore God Chicago 2019 series. The Explore God Chicago 2019 is a Community Outreach Initiative that seeks to answer seven important questions about God, faith, and purpose. You can find these seven important questions here. Previous studies on this series dealt with the following questions:
Today I address the seventh question in this series: “Can I Know God Personally?”
Many people today do not believe that they can know God personally. Some people struggle with the problem of doubt, others struggle with issues of faith. They often ask, “how can I find God when God is hiding from me?” The Bible not only assumes that God can be known by those who seek him, but it affirms that God has made himself known in many ways.
One way of knowing God personally and finding him in the events of everyday life is by seeking him. The prophet Jeremiah said: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). What the prophet was saying is that when people come to God, honestly seeking to know him, they will discover that God can be found. To seek God with “all you heart” is not just seeking God with one’s emotion, but seeking him with all one’s energy and will, that is, with one’s whole being.
When Jeremiah wrote those words to the people of Judah, they were in distress. Some of the people of Judah were taken away from their country and exiled in Babylon. Others were facing the prospect of a devastating war against their enemies. It was at that time, in time of great need, that Jeremiah encouraged the people to seek God. Generally, when people are in distress and when bad things and difficult times have happened to them, they look for God and, in their distress, they find him. They also find answers to their questions and strength to confront their situation.
The Revelation of God
Because God wants people to know him, God took the initiative and revealed himself to the people of Israel. The psalmist says that God “made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel” (Psalm 103:7). God revealed his teachings to Moses so that the people of Israel could know him personally. Through God’s words revealed to Moses, the people of Israel would know in a profound and living way that God was a gracious and merciful God.
God told the people of Israel: “I want you to know me” (Hosea 6:6 NLT). According to the prophet Hosea, to know God is essentially to live in communion and fellowship with God. To know God is more than just intellectual knowledge; it is a knowledge of the heart, a knowledge that requires one’s love for God. To know God is to walk humbly in the ways of the Lord. The prophet Micah told the people of Israel what the Lord required of them: “He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
For people living in the twenty-first century, to know means to have a firm understanding of things by reason, by analyzing, and by explaining all the factors involved in the matter. However, this is not how the people of the Old Testament understood knowledge. According to Th. C. Vriezen (1958: 129), “In the Old Testament knowledge is living in a close relationship with something or somebody, such a relationship as to cause what may be called communion.”
Thus, to know God personally is to live in a true relationship with God. In his definition of the knowledge of God, Porteous (1951: 343) wrote: “The intimate response of man’s whole being to God is what the Bible means by knowledge of God.” The prophet Hosea said: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). When people do not know God, when they do not live in a true relationship with God, they miss all the blessings God intended to give to them.
The Relational God
The God of the Bible is a relational God. The people of Israel were a people related to each other, to their environment, and to their God. In creating men and women, God entered into a special relationship with them in such a way that God chose to share power with them. When God created human beings, God created them in his image and in his likeness and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Because of this special relationship with humanity, God is affected by what happens to this relationship. Because human beings were created with free will, with the freedom to choose between good and evil and between obedience and disobedience, they failed in the responsibility as human beings and chose to sin against God by disobeying his command. As a result, their action brought destructive effect upon themselves and upon the entire creation.
The book of Genesis testifies to the devastating consequences of sin: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). As a consequence of their sin, human beings experienced separation, alienation, and estrangement from God. As they continue to turn away from their Creator, the separation between human beings and God became wider.
One of the many consequences of sin was the breakdown of the relationship that existed between God and human beings. The growth of sin affected individuals and families and led to intensified levels of violence: “God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11). However, God desired to restore his relationship with human beings and to fulfill his intention for his creation.
Over time God sent his prophets to call people to repent and turn to him. The prophet Jeremiah said to the people of Judah: “I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now everyone of you from your evil way, and amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall live in the land that I gave to you and your ancestors.’ But you did not incline your ear or obey me” (Jeremiah 35:15). The prophet Ezekiel said: “For it is not My desire that anyone shall die – declares the Lord GOD. Repent, therefore, and live” (Ezekiel32 TNK).
Knowing God Through Christ
Because the people of Israel rejected the message of the prophets and did not repent of their sins, God decided to take a different approach in his desire to redeem human beings. The apostle John says that God became human and lived among us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1,14).
In Christ “God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Even though God was in the world in human flesh, many of those who listened to him did not know him or accept him as God: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10). By not knowing him personally, the people missed a great opportunity to be restored into fellowship with God. As the prophet Hosea had spoken many years before Christ: “My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me” (Hosea 4:6 NLT).
However, many people accepted Christ and his teachings. Those who knew him personally received a special gift from God, they became part of God’s family: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
Members of God’s family. That is what it means to live is relationship with God. The God of the Bible is a relational God. He wants to live in relationship with every person, but this relationship can only be established when people come to know God personally. This is what the disciples of Jesus acknowledged when they confessed who he was: “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69). “We have come to know” and because they did know him, they followed him.
The knowledge of God is the basis for a personal relationship with God. The knowledge of Christ is the basis for our understanding his work. In his dialogue with the Jewish officials, Jesus emphasized the need to know. This is how John puts it:
And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from. Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me” (John 7:26-29).
Seven times the word “know” appears in this dialogue. Knowledge of who Jesus was is important if an individual wants to establish a personal relationship with God. The need to know is also emphasized in Jesus’ dialogue with Thomas and with Philip:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:1-9).
The words of Jesus to Thomas are very important: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Can anyone know God personally? Jesus said: “If you know me you will know my father.” To know God personally, one must know, believe, and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
And these are the most important words of Jesus about knowing God personally: “From now on you do know him and have seen him,” that is, “From now on you do know God and have seen him” for “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
“Can I Know God Personally?” Yes, you can if you believe in Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior.
Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Porteous, Norman W. “Old Testament Theology.” In The Old Testament and Modern
Study. Edited by H. H. Rowley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951, 311-345.
Vriezen, Th. C. An Outline of Old Testament Theology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958