Knowing God

I’m going to digress from my usual format in order to address some of the comments in the last two posts.

Fouzia, a Christian Pakistani woman, regularly walks her children to worship despite a terrorist attack on a Christian hospital that killed 70 people, despite the kidnapping and rape of a fourteen-year-old Christian who dared to share her faith with her classmates and would not convert to Islam as her captors demanded.

“We all feel sad,” [she said.]

And more afraid?

“And more afraid.”

But even as she spoke, Fouzia was gathering her children to go to church.

“Maybe it will not be my enemies who will be watching,” she said. “Maybe it will be other Christians. Maybe when they see us going to worship God and to pray, in spite of what all is happening, in spite of our fears, they will be encouraged to come along and worship with us.”

And what about the danger to herself and her family?

Fouzia simply said, “We will trust God.”

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

Then there was Yuan, a Christian in China who ministered throughout the week to the women in her area. She and her husband held an underground church in their home until he was arrested and imprisoned. Days later soldiers came to Yuan’s home and trashed it. They hauled her in and confiscated everything she owned before releasing her.

A neighbor took Yuan in, and she continued to visit the women because she wanted to be bold for her Savior just as her husband was.

Again she was arrested and fined. She said she had nothing to her name—they had already taken all she owned. No, they said, she still owned the shoes she wore. They removed them and crushed her feet with their heavy boots so that she could no longer go from house to house.

She was left to crawl back to her neighbors, but her ministry did not end.

Today she sill “stands” as a faithful witness. Women and children come to her bedside to hear her tell the story of a God who loves them and who sent his own Son to suffer and die for them.

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

What’s my point? As a number of commenters described their spiritual journey, God brought to my mind the parable recorded in Luke 8. As Jesus explained it to His disciples, He said some people are like seed that falls where rocks are and the rocks keep the roots from going down deep.

The rocks are temptations—the hard stuff that makes us want to look at our circumstances just as the people of Israel did on their way out of Egypt. They didn’t have food, water, or any way to defend themselves from their pursuers. Consequently, they wanted to quit, to go back to the way things were. Their roots weren’t deep.

But here’s Yuan and Fouzia and a host of other women who live where rocks abound yet they turn to God—the God of the Bible, without all the redaction or re-imaging—to be their comfort and their support. (For a beautiful post, reasonably short, on Christ and our suffering, read Rachel Starr Thomson’s post “Painful Perfection.”)

Could it be that simple faith is what we need, as Jesus said, and not mystical “centering prayer” or Scriptural gymnastics to make the text say something beyond the plain meaning of the words?

Here’s what I think. God wants to be found. He’s “bent over backwards” to reveal Himself—through prophets, living object lessons (that’s what Isaac was and what the Old Testament sacrifices were, what Joseph was, and David), through His Son, through His written word, through His Holy Spirit living in believers, and through the Church—His hands and feet in the world today.

Satan (yes, a real adversarial being who appears as an angel of light) is determined to muddy the waters. He is a liar and the Father of lies. He started by lying to Eve, first making her question what exactly God had said and ultimately contradicting God’s clear command.

On her behalf, she wasn’t there when God told Adam not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. Maybe she thought she misunderstood Adam when he related God’s words. Maybe she redefined them in her mind. What was “death,” after all? Not something she knew first hand. Was there even such a thing?

Sadly, even though Eve was deceived and Adam knowingly disobeyed, she suffered the same consequences he did. They were separated from the love of their lives. From the One who made sense of the world.

Their real problem wasn’t the rocky soil they now had to till or even their he said/she said attacks they started when God confronted them. Their real problem was their loss of relationship with their Creator.

This outcome is what Satan is after. He is loath to see God glorified. In his pride, he wants God’s place. He wants the esteem and honor that belong to Jesus. What better way than to belittle God and bring Jesus down.

So he lies about God today, just as he did with Eve. God doesn’t really mean what He says. He isn’t really a righteous Judge, he’s a wrathful monster at odds with his loving son. But no worry, he’s finally come around in the twenty-first century and repents of his previous brutality. He promises he’ll never do it again, certainly not for eternity.

Satan wishes.

13 Comments

  1. How I praise GOD for YOU Becky!!! What a ministry of truth God has given you here! You are feeding my soul and my heart and I thank you SO MUCH!!! I’ve been reading…and have been amazed at how you simply, in humbleness and with grace, share TRUTH!!

    A-men! A-men! and A-men!!!

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  2. Amen from me too!!! Great discussions, and posts.

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  3. Thank you, Becky. I so appreciate you adding these great insights to a story that tore at my heart.

    Blessings, sister!

    Kay Marshall Strom

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  4. Hi Becky (if I can call you that 🙂 ); thank you for sharing these stories. I am involved with some advocacy work with the persecuted church worldwide, and I deeply resonate with these stories. I’m a bit saddened that you’ve chosen to politicize them, though, and place them on your ‘team’ of American evangelicalism. While you’re right that these dear children of God have likely never consciously thought of ‘reimagining’ God, no doubt God has broken through who they thought he was in order to reveal more depth, more span, and more reality to them as they journey on – as God does for all of us. You, me, them…we’re all ever-experiencing the strength and fire of God in our lives the more we journey on – Western and Eastern, Northern Hemisphere and Global South, emerging evangelical and non-emerging evangelical. But I highly doubt that the images and experiences of God they hold in their hearts are identical to yours – or mine. How can they be? We all have different life experiences, and – as you say – God comes down every road to meet us where we are. It is from there that we increase in the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, moving from glory to glory, as we – with faces unveiled in New Covenant revelation – come to know God as God is, revealed ever more through the image of God’s precious Son.

    Grace & peace to you this evening!

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  5. Plain spoken. Well said. It doesn’t take a lot of words.

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  6. Hi, Becky
    I haven’t really been following your discussion with emergent theology folks. It definitely sounds suspicious. I guess any time we try to reinvent God (who is already beyond our understanding) we’re probably in muddy water.

    I’m chiming in actually b/c I have another thought. See I saw the title of the article “knowing God” and clicked right away to read. I’ve been a Christian, as far as I know, since 1991, earlier if my faith was genuine in the 7th grade. But the whole concept of “knowing God” has vexed me. I hear about “having a relationship with Jesus,” and “It’s relationship, not religion” and “I’ve come to KNOW God,” and many other similar phrases. I’ve even read books on the topic (Larry Crabb, Phillip Yancey, Oz Guinness, CS Lewis, etc). But in the end, I’m still left wondering, “What does it MEAN to KNOW God?”

    I’ve spoken with other Christians who describe “sweet” times of worship or prayer, but when I probe farther, they can’t seem to really describe it other than a sense of “warmth” or “presence.” Is that what it boils down to, a vague but pleasant sensation? Doesn’t seem like it could be that. Mormons talk all the time about the “burning in their heart.” I dunno.

    What’re your thoughts? I’d appreciate your insight.

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  7. Mike (zoe), you said: But I highly doubt that the images and experiences of God they hold in their hearts are identical to yours – or mine. How can they be? We all have different life experiences, and – as you say – God comes down every road to meet us where we are.

    This is where you and I differ. Knowing God has little to do with our life experiences and everything to do with God revealing Himself. He doesn’t come down every road to meet us. He comes through His Word which points to His Son who shows us the Father. Without Jesus, we see whatever we want to see—warm fuzzies or what have you.

    As sad as it makes me to say this, Mike, because I wish I could say this about you too, but I know without having met these women that I have more in common with them than I do with you, though we have cultural experiences and education that would seem to make us more like-minded.

    Why? Because in reading about Yuan and Fouzia I see an undiluted faith—the simple faith Jesus spoke of that doesn’t explain away the hard things, whether those are persecutions or coming judgment. They are willing to suffer, even as they strive to learn the whole counsel of God. I know Kay could speak more to this than I can.

    By the way, I don’t see that my rejoicing in these women’s sacrificial faith equates with politicizing them or putting them on the “American team.” Mike, they are part of the Church universal, as am I, and I glory in the example they are to me, as I pray for the perseverance of their faith and their protection from the evil one, among many other things.

    Becky

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  8. Speaking of Kay—thanks so much for stopping by. This book has had such a powerful impact on me. I loved The Call of Zulina too, and I know you have a number of other books out. You do such a great job showing the Church to the Church, if you know what I mean.

    Kim, Rae, Jessica, thanks so much for your encouragement. Means a lot

    Becky

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  9. Wayne, I think you’ve asked a critical question. I think some people get the idea of knowing God mixed up with having an experience with God. As I think about this, I’m reminded of a sermon Pastor Swindoll (I think it was from him) preached years ago about the resurrection.

    When the women reported the empty tomb, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John got there first, looked in saw the externals, but it didn’t compute. Peter got there, went in, and understood. John followed him in “and believed.” Except they still didn’t get that Jesus was resurrected. So what did John believe? That the women were right, the tomb was empty, Jesus was gone.

    What’s my point? Simply that faith and knowing are interconnected. Some of the people in these discussions these last few days talk about having an experience with God, but they have no way of knowing if they are experiencing God or a demon. They are having some kind of an emotional or spiritual high, but they deny the God of the Bible, concluding, in essence, that he’s not nice enough These same people even say they might change their mind in five years.

    Wayne, I became a Christian when I was young, and the only changes I’ve seen in my relationship with God have been in me. I believed God loved me, but now I understand He loves me. Later I believed He was a righteous Judge, but now I understand He is a righteous Judge. And so on.

    The thing is, I didn’t arrive at this knowing by having some kind of an emotional or spiritual high. I accepted by faith that God meant it when He said He inspired Scripture and that He gave it for my instruction. I committed to learning of God as He showed Himself in the pages of the Bible because I figured that’s what He wants me to know about Him.

    By the way, most of this was not ordered in my mind. I look back now and see God’s hand directing me to this place.

    But to continue. When I first committed to reading Scripture, I gave myself permission to skip the boring parts. And now, years later, I don’t find any boring parts. Still lots of hard parts and passages I don’t understand, but not boring.

    I have no doubt that I meet God in the pages of Scripture. And yes, I have experiences with Him.

    When I was a kid, I used to wonder if I was really a Christian because I didn’t feel anything for God. I couldn’t honestly say I loved Him. Needed Him, yes, but loved Him? How could I love Him if I didn’t have an experience with Him?

    But that was really a reflection of the fact that I didn’t understand love as commitment. Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” That threw me, as did a lot of I John because I knew I didn’t obey as I should.

    Somewhere along the line I learned about the restoration in relationship I could experience by confessing my sins and about doing what pleases God even when I don’t feel like it.

    The more I acknowledge God as He Who Knows what’s best, the easier it is to follow Him even when I might not see at first how that path is good.

    But back to experiencing God. I don’t try to. I think some people want a charge—the kind of intense feeling you have when you first fall in love.

    Shortly after I graduated from college I had a time when I felt as if God had wrapped His arms around me. It made me feel loved and accepted and comforted. Years later, I had similar occasions during my times in the Word, but I found myself seeking them out, expecting them, disappointed when I didn’t have an emotional charge during my “alone time with God.”

    Thankfully I had a friend who helped me see I wasn’t seeking God, I was seeking the emotional experience of having been with Him. I was seeking the gift, not the Giver.

    This is a long answer, I know, but what it boils down to is this: knowing God is like knowing anyone else—there are no short cuts. You need to listen to Him tell you about Himself.

    Another friend started me on this years ago. No matter what else I might do for devotions, I read the Bible from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation (but remember, when I started this, I was skipping the “boring parts”). However long it takes. Then I start over and do it again.

    Each time I learn more and more and more. And somewhere in there I realized I no longer had those new-love highs but a quiet assurance, an awareness that I’m never alone (!), that God has my back but He’s also my guide, that I can cry to Him and always trust Him even when people I love die.

    There’s something else. I’ve started feeling offended for God. I hate when people say things about Him that aren’t true (like, He repents of the violence He brought about in the Old Testament). The closest thing I can compare it to is David’s “zeal for Your house.”

    So what does it mean to know God? It means to know Jesus because He is the way to God. It means to draw close to Him and trust that He will draw close to you in return (James 4:8) It means to obey Him, to receive His instruction from His word, to trust that His Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth as He says He will. It means to ask Him regularly and often for whatever You need (not just health issues but even stuff like, How do I get my character out of the swamp). And it means to hold steadfast to what He says about Himself in Scripture—even though our eyes make us think it can’t possibly be true.

    My most life-changing experience with God came a number of years ago. I was coming from church and the music minister had said rather glibly, Isn’t God good? I thought about that on the drive home. I wasn’t experiencing God as good. The news was full of man’s inhumanity to man, my family was going through turmoil, I had friends dying of cancer, and I didn’t see God in any of it. I came to a stoplight and saw a little old woman sitting in a wheelchair, alone. My heart broke and I started crying for her, for the people who were dying a world away, for the lost and broken lives around me. Are you good, God, are you really good, I asked. I realized I either believed He was because He said so, or I couldn’t believe at all.

    In the next breath, almost as if He spoke audibly God said, You think you’re sad and you don’t know these people. I know each one by name.

    He didn’t explain suffering to me, but I knew He wasn’t indifferent to it. I knew He was with me.

    The weird thing is, my mom had one of those “near audible” experiences with God when she accepted Christ. It’s one of the reasons I questioned whether or not I was saved—I hadn’t had such an experience.

    But now I can look back and see how many things God did to move me forward, closer to Him. His hand has been on me in ways I can’t explain.

    So how do I know you, Wayne. We met once, have emailed a few times, left comments at each other’s blogs, but I dare say I know you better than you know me because I’ve read your books. Even though it’s fiction, I know something about your heart and your character that comes through loud and clear.

    Even more so, we can know God by reading His Book.

    Becky

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  10. Becky, uhm…………WOW. Not sure what to say. You’ve been very generous with your time and effort on behalf of my question (and others’ no doubt). I think you left out one key way we can get to know God—through His people. Bless you for writing and sharing. I feel wonderfully rebuked! lol

    You ever thought about writing a nonfiction title?

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  11. wonderful post, Beck. Thanks so much. So clear and full of truth.

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  12. And thanks too for calling attention to Daughters of Hope it sounds like a wonderful book.

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  13. and now that I have read the comments I am wowed by your wonderful response to Wayne, Becky.

    And I’m really laughing over his response to you. Could God be using Wayne in your life as he just used you in Wayne’s?

    Some of us, Wayne, have been telling Becky she has an amazing talent for nonfic. for a while now. She has a wonderful gift of discernment and an ability to boil things down to the essence and to analyze them and communicate the truths she learns so the rest of us can see the thing clearly.

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