Otsego Festival Question Series: Is it Possible to Know God?

If the word “exists” was tacked on to the end of the question, my answer would go an entirely different direction.  But it isn’t.  My answer, then, presupposes the existence of God.  There are at least two levels at which one can know a person.  The first is the level of facts.  The second is the level of relationship.  Let’s explore both the factual and relational levels.

Is it possible to know God at the factual level?  The answer is yes.  In fact, many people do.  We might call this the Wikipedia level.  You can open your internet browser, type in “God” and you will get a link to a Wikipedia article on God.  It will provide all kinds of information (not all correct, I might add) about God including general conceptions of God, His attributes, and so on.  You could compile all of these facts about God and then be able to answer a few trivia questions.  However, at the end of the day you would only know God at a factual level.  This is looking at God more as an object than a subject.  One author illustrated the difference between knowing a person as an object or subject this way:

A young man could try to get to know a young woman by gaining access to her medical records, her academic transcripts, and her bank statements. He could compile lists of the places she goes and the people she sees. When she hears from his friends that he claims to know her, however, and she discovers the personal details that he has amassed, she is not likely to feel flattered. She is more likely to feel violated, and she would have every right to say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” She might even take legal action to prevent his stalking (Kevin Bauder, “Knowing Facts and Knowing Persons,” “In the Nick of Time,” August 19, 2011).

Many people know God at the Wikipedia level, which is a great starting point—assuming their facts are right—but insufficient.  It is not uncommon for people who have been confirmed or who attend church regularly to have only a superficial, factual knowledge of God.  If facts are the measure by which one knows a person, then I can say I know Barack Obama.  The reality is that we all know there is more to knowing a person than merely gathering information about them.  This leads us to the second level at which we can know God.

We can know God at the relational level.  We cannot dismiss the importance of knowing facts about a person as entirely irrelevant.  It is an important starting point—again, assuming the facts are accurate.  For instance, it is quite prudent for a husband to know his wife’s date of birth; her likes and dislikes.  But for a relationship to blossom it must go deeper.  As a husband and wife disclose more about themselves to each other, trust develops and intimacy deepens.  This is what knowing someone at the relational level looks like.  The Bible teaches us that God desires to have a personal relationship with you and me.  Listen to Revelation 3:20:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Wow!  God desires to enjoy time together with us!  So much so that He has initiated the invitation!  He seeks and invites people to commune with Him (Revelation 3:20), to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4), and to find their satisfaction in Him (Psalm 73:25).  There are few places where this is clearer than in the well-known verse, John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Notice that God’s love initiated a relationship by acting first: He sent his only Son, Jesus.  God intended to provide a means of reconciling us to Him by sending His Son into the world.  Reconciliation is a relationship term, which signals that there was once strife, animosity, and severe tension but now they are no longer looming over the relationship.  Reconciliation leads to peace, which is not merely the cessation of hostility but the reconciliation of two parties who were once enemies.  Our sins have separated us from God according to Isaiah 59:1-2.  They were immoral grenades we cast at heaven, as it were.

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; [2] but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

But when God sent His Son, He provided a means of reconciling us to Himself, even though we were His enemies.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10).

Reconciliation and peace with God didn’t come cheap.  Jesus died a cruel death to pay the penalty our sin required.  The good news is that Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead three days later accomplished the payment for sin.  Thus reconciliation with God is possible.  Two passages in the Bible support this:

For in him [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. [21] And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 2:19-22)


But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).

If we are going to move beyond a shallow factual knowledge of God to a genuine, deep relationship with Him we can only do so through His Son, Jesus Christ (see John 14:6-7).

So in summary, we can know a person at two levels: factual and relational.  While facts are a good starting point, we inherently recognize the deficiency of knowing someone merely at the factual level.  We were created relational beings.  The most important relationship that any person can enter into is a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.  We do this by repenting of our sins which separate us from God and placing our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as our only hope for reconciliation with God.  If you’re interested in learning more about having a personal relationship with God, please view this five
minute video


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