â€œFor God, who said, â€œLight shall shine out of darknessâ€â€”He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of Godâ€™s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.â€ (2Cor 4:6 HCSB)
There are lots of different ways of using the verb ‘know’. It can be a slippery little word.
If I say, ‘I know the history of Ballet’, I mean something slightly different to when I say ‘I know Bob the Ballerina’. When I say ‘I know…’ I might mean anything from being able to repeat facts, through a claim about having had certain experiences, to relationships, sexual intimacy, recognition of objects, and who knows what else! Humans are incredibly creative when it comes to playing our language games.
Generally however, you can work out what I mean by ‘I know’ by referring in the context to the object I’m speaking about. That’s how you can tell the difference between my uses of ‘know’ in ‘know the history of ballet’ and ‘know Bob’.
The thing I’m claiming to know tells you something about the kind of knowledge I might have.
How does this work with God?
If I claim to know God, what kind of knowing is this?
We can only work out what kind of knowing it is by working out what kind of object it is that I’m speaking about – in this case, God.
But God isn’t an object. He’s a He. God is a being. God is a person…
…actually The Person.
We know this because he reveals himself.
We are capable of understanding this Self-Disclosure, we are capable of knowing God as The Person, precisely because he made us with this capability.
[There is more on this here]
What we find, as God makes himself known to us, is that God is a Unique Person, A Unique Being.
God is an utterly Unique object of human knowledge.
And therefore, when I speak of ‘knowing’ God, I’m speaking of knowing a unique kind of thing. It won’t necessarily be like knowing the history of Ballet, or knowing Bob the Ballerina. The only thing knowing God can be like is… knowing God.
So what is ‘knowing God’?
The strange answer in the pages of the Bible is this:
Knowing God is what happens when the gospel is proclaimed.
Knowing God = the effect of the gospel.
Human knowledge of God is defined as that which is created in human minds through the preaching of the gospel.
(there is more to be said at this point about the work of God the Spirit in the words of the gospel preaching and in the mind of the hearer, but another time)
This is a unique form of knowledge – a unique definition – for a unique object of knowledge.
What does it mean for me to ‘know God’? It means that I have heard the message of the gospel, and that the gospel has had its proper effect on me.
What does it mean for the gospel to have had ‘it’s proper effect’. What is the effect produced by the gospel?
The gospel produces faith in those who have heard it (in the truest sense).
Therefore, the heart of Christian knowledge of God is faith in God.
To know God is to trust God, believe God.
Faith is the uniquely characteristic form of the Christian knowledge of God.
We are truly knowing God when we trust him.
Trusting God sends us outwards again to the words of the gospel because to have faith in God means to have faith in his words. And this is precisely what is demanded by the gospel which comes to us in the form of a promise:
â€œâ€œFor God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.â€ (John 3:16 HCSB)
It is a promise secured by the death and resurrection of Christ, and therefore a ‘better promise’, but a promise nonetheless:
â€œBut Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.â€ (Heb 8:6 HCSB)
To know God is to have faith, which is to say, to trust God’s word of promise.
Abraham’s trust in God was a belief that he would carry out his word of promise to Abraham.
Of course this was not simply a static, mental affirmation. Abraham’s faith in God led him on a journey to a foreign and unknown Land, led him to the point of sacrificing his promised Son, of refusing to let his Son leave the Land, and lying dead in a bought burial plot.
The knowledge of God produced by the gospel is faith – the action of trusting in God’s word. The word produces the response which acts in accordance with the word.
This is the double-action of gospel preaching.