From Knowing to Knowing

How does someone know that you love them? My wife knows that I love her. She can remember that I swore vows to do so, she can remember all the times that I’ve said so before, she can watch my behaviour both past and present and see that it must be true. She knows that I love her. But, if that was it, she knew because she could figure it out, I imagine she wouldn’t feel loved.

Feeling loved is more than knowing it’s true, it’s experiencing something that demonstrates it. It’s one thing to logically deduce that you’re loved, another to receive gifts, or words, or affection, or time, or help that shows that someone loves you, cares for you, and takes the time to think about what makes you happy.

Only knowing you’re loved would make sustaining a marriage through all the buffets of life a real challenge.

It’s the same with God. We can know he loves us because we can deduce it, but it’s quite something else to feel loved. For that we need to experience something that demonstrates it. To be sustained by the love of God through all the buffets of life, we need to move from knowing to feeling.

Which sounds backwards, we all know that knowing would be better than feeling—of course if we take a step back, both are kinds of knowledge and could both be called knowing. By ‘feeling’ here I mean the difference between deduction and direct experience.

When life knocks us for six, how do you find the strength to stand up again? A theological knowledge that there is hope beyond the veil? That’s a great start, but we need both a knowing of hope and a feeling of joy. The feeling lets us know, deep down in our bones, that the knowing of hope is a true knowing. Joy lets us know that hope isn’t abstract and alien, but familial. Joy lets me know that hope is for me.

I could learn something about you by looking at you, and I could probably learn a lot more about you by asking other people who do know you about you. Then I would be in the (I’m sure) pleasant position of knowing lots about you. I might even have a reasonable idea what knowing you would be like, but I wouldn’t actually know you.

The only way I can know you is by speaking to you, and even then I can only know you as much as you allow. This takes time, as we gather around the table to chew the cud over a big bowl of chicken basque and get to know each other. Our inner lives—the way we think and feel, how we react to things—can only be truly known if they are revealed. Other people only become knowable as they reveal themselves to us, as they speak or act.

It also requires mutuality. If over our meal I reveal almost nothing of myself, there’s a natural limit to how much I’ll get to know you, even if you’re not consciously aware of it. Someone has to take the vulnerable step of opening themselves up first—and this is a matter of degrees, because people (like Ogres and onions) are made of layers—but if their trust is not reciprocated it won’t go much deeper.

It’s the same with knowing God.

Experiencing the Spirit is how we truly know God, rather than knowing about him. It’s not that we can’t relate to God without experiencing the Spirit, but that the Spirit brings an intimacy which allows us to move from knowing about God to ‘feeling’ him, to knowing him.

God has revealed himself to humanity in Jesus, his whole raison d’être for this is to introduce us to the knowledge of God in order to win himself what the Bible calls ‘glory’. This can only work if, as the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it:

that divine self-revelation, then, cannot end outside of, before, or in the proximity of human beings but must reach into human beings themselves. In other words, revelation cannot be external only but must also be internal.

What Bavinck is arguing is that because God wants to reveal himself totally, he needs to give us more than an unrushed meal or an experience. He needs to offer us an unrushed experience that is inside of our own frame of reference, inside of us. He needs to move in.

God’s mission requires people to know him inside themselves, to know him truly. The whole point of the human life is a pilgrimage of revelation: a journey of knowing God better. The way he does this is by filling people with his Spirit so that he lives with them. As Paul put in in 1 Corinthians:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

We are meant to know God like an intimate conversation—we’re invited to the table (Psalm 23), and we get to sit and eat with God. That’s one of the patterns of the scriptures celebrated and experienced week by week as we eat the Lord’s Supper. God has made all the first moves, and we’re invited to an ever deepening knowing. We will know God and be known by him.

All Christians need this sort of direct experience of God that allows us to move from knowing we’re loved to feeling loved, and allows us to know that God is with us even on the days we don’t feel loved at all. I’m the sort of charismatic who would talk about ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ as the first of these experiences, but still expect them to be the normal Christian life.

We all need to know, and to know, that we’re loved.

Dear Christian, if today this is heavy word—perhaps you feel a long way from loved, perhaps you live in the ruins of a life once lived in faith or in the desolation of a thousand heartaches that have filed away your definition of love until it’s flimsy enough to break under the slightest stress—if today the idea of knowing this directly is shocking and unpleasant, then know this:

You are loved. God is for you. He wants you. He likes you. He will pursue you with mercy.

And if you can’t believe that, the church can believe it for you. You are loved.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

This post forms part of a serialisation of a short book on ‘Baptism in the Spirit,’ you can read the rest of the posts here.

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