How can a human being know God? This post has been prompted by some concepts explained in my first theology lecture and the Vineyard National Leadership Conference – a massive 4 day long event that I was helping out at this week, and the reason I haven’t written a blog post in ages!
That first question is almost impossible to answer definitively. It relies on the interpretation of several things and, most problematic of all, subjective experience. For that reason, I’m not even going to attempt to approach it in an objective, empirical way. It just doesn’t work. I’m going to give you my personal response; my own feelings as to how I know God and how I continue my relationship with Him day after day.
This hinges first and foremost on the God that I profess faith in. It involves some reason, yes, but pure reason is a limited tool for actually knowing God – what if he’s fundamentally greater than anything pure human reason can comprehend? So add to that reason some emotion, hope and a fair portion of faith and maybe we’re getting somewhere near how I know God. And for the record, although I listed faith and reason separately, I do not mean to say that they are opposites or uninvolved with each other, but they serve different functions in the way I know God, just as hope serves another different function.
Also, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here, just trying to articulate something personal in the hope that you might find it interesting. If you don’t believe in God, then this could be something of interest to you as a first-hand account of a religious person’s experience of their faith; if you believe in God, then you might also find this interesting and it may encourage you to think about how you know God.
Enough preamble. The God that I believe in is the God of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. The sovereign King; the loving father. God of justice and love. The God who revealed himself in physical form in the person of Jesus Christ. That same Jesus is the Word of God who created and sustains all of creation. A God who does not abandon his people. A God whom we can know and love today. A God whom we can have a relationship with and a God who desires that kind of relationship.
In my experience of knowing God reason is important. I find it comforting that there is an intellectual level on which someone can engage with God. I love stories of academics coming to know him through their fields or using their fields as platforms to know him more. I admire people who research this sort of thing and do their best to show that God can be engaged with through reason. That said, I don’t think reason in that sense is a requirement for knowing God. It certainly doesn’t need to be the biggest factor in determining belief. This is not an argument for ignorance. This is me saying that if one comes to God as a person to a person – a relationship involving two-way communication and love – then reason is not necessary to sustaining that any more than I have to convince myself rationally that my human friends are real before communicating with them. I just know they’re real.
So what else is there? Well, for me, emotion is important. Strong feelings. Love and joy are amazing and signs of God’s presence in your life but God can even work through more negative emotions like anger and sadness. I believe in a creator God and I don’t think a creator God would have given us emotions if they didn’t help us to get to know him in any way. One of the things that struck me at the Vineyard NLC was the emotion involved in the musical worship. There is nothing wrong with using music to help create an emotional environment that makes it easier for us to engage with God. Music and emotions should never be the basis on which someone creates a relationship with God and they are not substitutes for the faith that the Bible talks about, but they are tools that we can use for creating a better environment for worship. Take the example of a big meeting like Soul Survivor. A gathering of teenagers. Teenagers can be self-conscious. Without accompanying music and catchy songs, how many would engage with God and how many would just stand there looking awkward? Music can create a safer environment and allow us to express our emotions more freely. It is certainly possible to go over the top – a relationship with God based solely on the emotion created by a good band probably isn’t healthy – but it shouldn’t be dismissed.
However, love and faith are the most important parts of my ability to know God. Faith turns my reason into belief. Faith allows me to trust in God and dedicate myself to him. But still, if I don’t have love, that faith is worthless. It’s love that lets me say that line of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Your will be done’. Love is the foundation of the Christian relationship with love. That love is more than a feeling, it’s a lifestyle: a daily choice. It’s not always as simple as just falling into love with God. It’s something that you have to decide to do, to recommit over and over again and keep in the forefront of your mind. It’s not always easy – a bit of faith can help there – but it’s the foundation that every Christian needs. Love God and the rest will come.
There you go. Those are my thoughts on the matter. You may express it differently or this may strike a chord with you; I don’t know. Love, faith, reason, emotion – all of those help me to know God and to continue the relationship with him that he desires from his creation. I don’t always get it right (who does?) but those ingredients give a good platform to be going on with.