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Knowing God

For Francis [of Assisi] religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love affair.
– G.K. Chesterton
And that's just what is lacking. Over and over I see Christians who relate to God like they relate to an idea. I see Christians who know God like they know math, physics, philosophy or any other area of knowledge. I see Christians who pray with rhetorical devices and formulas. What I rarely see are Christians who know God like they know a person. Christians who talk with God not just to or at God.
Increasingly I have begun to think that this is the problem that lies at the very root of the plethora of problems that exist within North American Christianity today. Ultimately, at the bottom of it all, North American Christians miss the mark because they've never truly known God. Despite all their talk about “personal relationship with Jesus” I wonder how many of them have actually met him.
But Francis was right – true religion is a love affair. It's passionate, it's intimate, it's genuinely knowing and being known. Without that intimacy, without that very real personal relationship, Christianity is bound to become twisted into perversion or wither into nothingness.
It is this relationship that lies at the heart of Christian mysticism. That's why C. Ringma can say that Christians in the West in the 21st-century will become mystics or cease being Christians. This is what Kierkegaard never grasped. “Mystics,” he said, “have not the patience to wait for the revelation of God.” Contra-Kierkegaard mystics are not those who give up on understanding. Rather they are those who are rooted in love relationship and are so grounded in trusting the one they love that they do not need a complete answer to everything. They possess the understanding that only intimacy grants. Kierkegaard would reduce God to a proposition. Of course, this only makes sense as relationships – interactions between the self and the other – are increasingly impossible within Kierkegaard's existentialist framework.
This is why I am also increasingly thinking that Christians need to stop trying so hard. Christians are involved in a mass of activities seeking to transform the world, bring the kingdom of God, build the church, etc., etc., etc. But, outside of genuine relationship, these activities will be futile, like matches struck in a midnight thunderstorm. A flash of light, the smell of smoke, then darkness and rain, darkness and rain, darkness and rain.
The first thing Christians should do is cry out to God. Cry out for a genuine encounter, cry out for God's in-breaking into their lives and into the world. Until God comes everything is useless. Yet Christianity is marked by the guarantee of God's coming. God will come. God is not just the God of the past or the God of the future. God is the God of all of history, and that includes the present.
And when God does come, when God breaks in and transforms our present we will realise then that God is, after all, our Lover.

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  1. It’s hard to have a “relationship” with One who I cannot see, hear, feel, smell, or taste. When I pray, it feels like I’m talking to myself.

  2. Dan, great thoughts!
    I am touched by it on so many levels. You have captured much of my Christian life experience.
    I’m not sure I can say I’ve been looking for a love affair with God, but I am looking for communion with God.
    I get stuck on your “Christians need to stop trying so hard” comment. When you read some of the mystics they all speak about communion with God as something that needs to be worked at, hard. Merton talks about this. Teresa of Avila talk about this. And Teresa of Avila, at least, did claim to have been in a love-affair with God; she talks about it as ecstacy. I wonder if the trying hard just takes a different form, or a different focus, or a different direction?
    Don’t ask me though, cause I’ve been trying so hard in a futile direction for so long. And now I am trying hard in another direction that seems just as futile. Shit, I even have to try hard to stop trying hard.
    You know, what you talk about here really does paint a picture of part of my life. My faith was intellectualized and theologicized; this is largely why it has withered and faded. Since then I’ve been screaming, screaming hard for God to come.
    Et lux in tenebris lucet???

  3. Yes, Et lux in tenebris lucet, but remember, tenebrae eam conprehenderunt (if you’re going to be reading the Bible in other languages I suggest going past the Latin and straight to the Greek. Latin may help you understand theologians but it doesn’t guarantee a deeper grasp on Scripture).
    I appreciate you highlighting Merton’s (and Theresa’s) point that communion with God takes work. I agree. Although I would tend to shy away from that sort of language. Instead of talking about work I prefer to think of it in terms of desperation. Desperation, crying out, holding on when everything around you seems to be swirling away into madness – I feel that sort of language is more appropriate especially at the start of the relationship. It is at the beginning when one is first awaiting God’s in-breaking that all one can do is cry out to God… and yes that is work, especially when it is something you have to do repeatedly. Of course as the relationship develops then there is more of a give and take and more work that is done but that’s only natural and presupposes the initial encounter.
    Does that make sense?

  4. Yeah, that makes sense – at least written down it does.
    I don’t really have much desire to study scripture from the original languages. I was sort of poking fun at myself by writing that passage in Latin…but, like a lot of things I think and do these days, it probably only made sense to me. Poetry anyone.
    An interesting thing to talk about – and I’ll have to look at your original post b/c maybe you do – would be what we are to look for in that inbreaking, that initial encounter. What does it look like? This is what I’d like to hear more about: tell me about a give and take relationship with the Creator.

  5. Sorry, I thought I did get what you were doing with John 1.5. I was also sort of poking fun at you by quoting the rest of the verse. Yep, not at me… at you. Take that.
    *Sigh* like two ships passing in the night, so is our humour. đŸ˜‰
    As for what to look for in that initial in-breaking… well, you’ll know it when it happens.

  6. I would like everybody to take note – that’s right somebody loves me! Not just anybody either, a girl loves me – not just any girl either, she’s intelligent and beautiful! Dan’s the man, baby! Dan’s the man!

  7. I am wanting God to have his way with me and I am at the point where I am willing to pack all my wants and desires up in order to live a life that is not mine. The only thing left to do now is give up my life for my friend as it is the greatest thing I can do and quit honestly the only thing I can do because other then this what do I have?? And even what kind of life am i giving up hmmm??

  8. dan dan,
    you know, you didn’t have to talk smack about kierkegaard in order to get me to post.
    i’m not gonna bother with your comments on him…let’s just say you’re allowed to be wrong and i’m lovin’ my soren.
    now then, it’s funny that i just finally read these thoughts of yours today because they reflect some of my own frustrations as i reflected them to a handful of my highschool kiddies on sunday.
    what go me thinking about christendom’s problem with their view of god was a small book about open theism by a handful of authors. they may be winning me over.
    i certainly think that one point in why christians (at least christians within the western expression of our faith) have a problem with relating to god is our view of god. granted our hymnody and prayer lives don’t tend to reflect this, but i think classical theism has some problems in it that effect most christians psychologically in ways we don’t even know. things like god as being outside of time and immutable are not helpful categories. i need a god who is with me, who is open to me, who will feel pain with my pain. we forget that it is god who is the pursuer in the biblical portrait of god. god is first and foremost the lover who wo’s us, not vice versa.
    as a freind of mine once said, “god’s got a hard on for us”
    yeah that was too much for me to…especially with the tone of voice, buh, but still, there is something very hebrew in such a statement.
    god is passionate for god’s creation…let us run to the god who is running to us.
    just some thoughts.