Faith / Ordinary Life / Spirituality

Knowing the Invisible, Inaudible, Untouchable God: Between the Garden, Galilee, & Glory

Have you seen the advertisement which promises you a personal relationship with a car? This luxury machine, you are told, will anticipate your every whim and desire. It will get to know you and be your friend.

I hate false advertising. You are promised wonderful experiences and end up being repeatedly disappointed. Sadly, some evangelism is like that. You are promised that when you become a Christian, your problems will be over and you will be filled with joy, love and peace because you have a wonderful, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But the reality of the Christian life in a fallen world is usually different and many struggle not to become cynical and disillusioned.

At Covenant Seminary our often-expressed desire is that, above everything else, the students should not just know about Christ, but should know him better when they leave than when they came. In reality, however, with the huge amount of time in academic study, students often find their seminary years to be a dry and difficult time in their relationship with God.

Paul said that his greatest longing, above everything else, was to know Christ (Phil 3:10) and he prayed with passion that the Christians at Ephesus would know him better (Ephesians 1:17). Jeremiah advised us not to boast in wisdom or wealth but only to boast in the fact that we know God (Jeremiah 9:23-24). What is this relationship with God? What does it mean to know him? And how do you keep this relationship with him personal when you are studying about him? As soon as we call a relationship with God “personal” we have a problem: God is immaterial and invisible.

A Problem
How can you have much of a relationship with someone who does not talk when you talk to him, whom you cannot see and have never seen, who leaves stories and letters about himself —written two thousand years ago? No phone conversations —in fact, rather strange one way conversations —you lift the phone and start talking and no one replies, at least not in an audible voice. No new mail, just tons of very old mail. No faxes or e-mails, no personal appearances. No burning bush, no cloud, no obvious signs or wonders. A bit distant, to say the least. Now, compare this with my relationship with my wife, the closest and most intimate that I know. I can see, smell, touch, and hear her.

The main analogies used in scripture, of our knowledge of God, tease us with anticipation of closeness. We can know God, we are told, in the way a son knows his father, a wife knows her husband, a subject knows his king and a sheep knows his shepherd. [1] But very few sons have not seen their fathers. And what wife has not felt her husband’s arms around her? What sheep has not heard his shepherd’s voice?

In a personal relationship what we long for most of all, is to see the other person. We find it hard to be satisfied with a relationship when we cannot see them. We can carry on a friendship over the telephone, up to a point, but seeing someone takes us to a new level of intimacy. A newborn baby learns to trust nestling in his mother’s arms, mouth to breast, hearing a voice, gazing into mother’s eyes —a total sensory experience. No wonder we long for more. We have to learn to trust God with none of that. When I am away from my wife, I long to see and touch her, to hold and be held. I long more than anything to look into her face, to see her smile, to see the twinkle of enjoyment in her eyes, to sit across the table and talk—gazing into those eyes. We use the expression, a very biblical one for this sort of close relationship: “face to face.” The elderly apostle John writes: “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John v.12).

The psalmist prays “Make your face shine upon us” (Psalm 80:3) and “Do not hide your face from me” (Psalm 2:2). These expressions are speaking of a deep longing to know God more. God speaks of the special close relationship he had with Moses: “With him I speak face to face” (Numbers 12:8). I do not think that Moses literally saw God’s face (Exodus 33:11). This must have been a figure of speech for closeness, because in verse 20 of the same chapter God says: “You cannot see my face for no one can see me and live.” But it seems that Moses saw a lot more than us because his own face glowed with the reflected glory. We are promised that one day we will see Him face to face but “now we see but a poor reflection, then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

For us, now, today, we are promised the presence of God, but we cannot see, hear or touch Him. Honesty demands that we admit the frustration. We pray and it seems so one-sided. There is silence to our longings for a voice or a sign. There is distance when we need an arm around our shoulders and a word of encouragement. “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (Psalm 89:46). There is an empty space when we long to see him walk into a room. In extreme situations of danger and terror, in desperation, people often cry out for help as Isaiah did: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” and deliver me! (Is 64:1).

Is this tension and frustration with the apparent absence of God, just a sign of immaturity? Often I feel I should be beyond this but perhaps it could be seen as a mark of growth and maturity —a deeper longing to know God even more!

Throughout the church I meet many people looking for experiences of God, tangible evidence of a relationship with him—healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, laughing in the spirit, and words of knowledge. They often use special techniques of meditative prayer to listen to the voice of God. Now this is not completely wrong. Some people do have real experiences of God. But, for most, I fear that they are somehow trying to force God’s hand, to twist his arm. “Let me in this way. Rend the heavens and make God come down!” Many worship services today (especially at the more charismatic end of the spectrum) seem to be encouraging techniques for manipulating God to show himself in some tangible way. In our quick fix and experience oriented age, where we learn that gratification should not be delayed, we become impatient with God. We are not satisfied with waiting and mystery.

So, the burning question becomes: What can we expect to experience of God from day to day, between those seemingly occasional times when God does answer prayer dramatically and we feel his presence and love in an unusual way? Some Christians talk as if such times should be the daily norm of the Christian life.

The professional theologian’s danger is of course often the opposite—of thinking that, when we know a lot about God, we know him; of thinking that, when we have mastered the fine points of doctrine and can exegete his Word with skill, we are near him.

The History of the Problem
There is some dispute among theologians about whether Adam and Eve saw anything of God in the garden. But they certainly heard His voice and seem to have sensed his presence in a way that we do not. They “heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden” (Genesis 3:8) and they hid. After they sinned and were expelled from the garden it seems that there was not the same experience of intimacy with God. It is here in the account of the Fall that we find our first clue to the reason for the problem: Because of sin, our knowledge of God, and our relationship with God is limited for a while.

Throughout the time of the patriarchs and prophets there are only a few instances of visible presence. God’s appearances to Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were amazing glimpses of glory—a voice, dramatic light, smoke, fire, colors but no face (Exodus 19, Is 6:1, Ezekial 1:27-28, Daniel 7:9-14).

With the incarnation of Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us,” the infinite Lord came in physical form to the earth. Mary and Joseph held him in their arms and listened to his laughter and his cries. In Galilee He could be seen, touched, smelled, and heard. Mary washed his feet, blind men felt the touch of his finger on their eyes. He hung bleeding and weak on a cross. Thomas touched his scarred hands and feet. The apostles noted this real sensory experience as a mark of their relationship with Christ: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard , which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

But we have not had the same experience of the obvious physical presence of God.

Before he died, Jesus promised that when he left the apostles they would not be alone. He would be in them and with them. He would love, teach and guide them:

I will ask the Father and he will give you another counselor to be with you for ever—the spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things He will testify about me. He will guide you into all truth. In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me (John 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-15).

Jesus promises a very real relationship through the Spirit of God, but we have to admit that this is, to say the least, a somewhat mysterious thing because it is so different in quality from our normal human relationships. There is no physical evidence of His presence. Imagine how hard it was for the disciples to adjust to the new reality of dealing with an invisible and inaudible Spirit instead of a flesh and blood man.

As with the prophets of the Old Testament, there are a few incidents in the apostolic literature of the New Testament of something more. Paul and John had visions of God where they caught a glimpse of physically dazzling glory and a magnificent and awesome presence (Revelation 1:12-16). John’s vision is clearly described but there are only suggestive hints of Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6.

Expectation and Hope
We have traced some of the high points of personal experience of God in the garden and in Galilee and when we are finally with the Lord in glory, we are promised that we will see Jesus and hear his voice and feel his touch. John anticipates the day when “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (John 3:2). He eagerly looks forward to a time when “the throne of God and of the lamb will be in the city and his servants will serve him, and they will see his face” (Revelation 22:4). Paul anticipates more as he writes: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; [polished bronze was not very clear!] then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Perhaps this is a level of intimacy and fellowship with God that even Adam and Eve never knew. The book of Revelation ends with a cry of longing: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

How then do we know him? Let us count the ways.
The first and primary way in which we gain our deepest knowledge of God is through the scriptures. This is knowledge about him that was written a very long time ago but is just as relevant now as it was then. We are given hundreds of richly descriptive stories and statements about the character, relationships and reactions of God the Father, his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For example, from Jeremiah 9:24 we learn that God delights in kindness, justice, righteousness and from Jeremiah 31:20 that he delights in you and me. There is so much revealed about him in the Scriptures. When we read a good and intimate biography of someone, we sometimes feel that we know that person really well, and that if we met them we would have a lot to talk about. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six biographies of God, each like one surface of a diamond reflecting some aspect of his character.

It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about what Christ looked like. If we had only a description of his physical appearance and no record of what he did or said, we would have a very superficial knowledge of him. In our age, where we are surrounded by visual images in the media, appearance has assumed too much importance. Too easily we judge by how people look. We mistake image for reality. But character and personality go much deeper and are discovered behind skin, eyes, hair, body or voice.

But the Bible is not only “God’s Word” in the sense that in it God speaks universal truths to the world about himself—his purposes, his character, and his works, it is also “God’s word” in the sense that he speaks to me, today. I do not hear an audible voice of God but as I read the Scriptures, meditate on them and pray, the Spirit of God makes the stories, teaching and principles relevant and applicable to my daily experience.

And yet, while emphasizing the crucial role of Scripture in our relationship with God, there is still the ever present danger that in knowing God’s Word we can know a lot about him without actually knowing him.

How can I know that I know Him? The Bible itself seems to anticipate this question. John writes: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 2:3, 3:6). The evidence of knowing him is whether we obey his commands and continue to work against sin in our lives. We will not be completely free from sin in this life but John implies that we should have a growing awareness of it and be resisting it. God knows us and calls us into covenant partnership with him to be his fellow workers and friends! An amazing thought. By obeying him we get to know him better and the evidence of knowing him better is our obedience. The primary evidence of knowing God, this side of glory, is not a warm and fuzzy feeling, or a vision or a voice from heaven but our response to what God has spoken to us in the Scriptures.

Secondly, as already mentioned, we get to know him as we pray. It is hard to discipline oneself to talk to someone who does not immediately respond. The tyranny of the urgent too often presses me to minimize the importance of time in prayer and meditation. We know that we need time to cultivate human relationships and the same is true of our relationship with God. Few relationships grow without commitment or time and effort. The traditional spiritual disciplines of the saints through the ages have always emphasized the need for times of withdrawal, stillness and silence. Our lifestyles with their stress on frenetic activity and visible productivity certainly do not encourage this. If we take the time to be still before him and to open our hearts and minds in his presence, to be brutally and refreshingly honest with him, then he begins to shape, transform and renew us from the inside out.

Thirdly, we know God by his Spirit’s work within us. Remember the promise of Jesus in John 14-16 already quoted. He gives many promises of comfort, encouragement, conviction, guidance, and fruitfulness. This is a mysterious, almost intangible thing that is so blended into our daily experience that it is hard to define which part of our thinking and feeling is prompted by the Spirit. What is us and what is God? I suppose we might only know that if the Spirit left us!

Fourthly, we know him in creation (Romans 1:20). We know this as general revelation. In Romans 1:18-20 Paul implies that when we take walks in the mountains, by the ocean, or in the park, and when we reflect on the wonder of the human body and mind, we can see evidence that God exists and learn something of his character and power. In Psalm 19 creation is spoken of as pouring out speech about God’s existence and character. Even without the scriptures, there is enough evidence of God so that unbelievers will be held accountable for how they respond to this (Romans 1:20). As a medical student I was stunned by the intricate design of the human body and now as I work with people in counseling I am awed by the complexities of the mind.

Fifthly, we see something of God in his actions in history and in the spread of the church throughout the world. Contemporary miracles, evidences of God’s intervention in the world, are seen where the gospel transforms individuals, families and even cultures. Sometimes I emerge from an hour of counseling with a sense of wonder and privilege at having witnessed a miracle as I hear stories of how God has transformed someone’s perspective on a serious problem or renewed a marriage.

It is necessary to take a small digression here. One of the reasons why we have a problem is that perhaps too much is made of our personal relationship with God. This almost sounds like heresy but Christianity is far more than a cozy friendship between me and the God of the universe. It is the momentous truth about the very nature of reality itself. The gospel is often presented as “Get right with God and you will be friends with God and go to heaven when you die.” This is important and true but it is not, by any means, the whole story. The effect of the incarnation of Christ is like the effect of a large stone thrown into a pond. The waves and ripples have spread over the face of the earth. The gospel gives a basis for knowing why and how to live. It transforms one’s attitude to everything. It is a world view, a philosophy of life, a basis for ethics, art and science, and it is rooted in historical events and a relationship with a living God.

Returning now to the theme of how we know God, there are two more ways.

We also get to know him as we worship Him individually and in the community of God’s people. Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, reading and hearing his word, praying together and sharing his body and blood around the communion table, all remind us of who he is and what he has done for us. We so easily forget and we need constant reminders of the extraordinary relevance of Christianity in the world today.

And lastly, in the “body of Christ,” the family of God, we meet him in other people. In his physical absence, until he returns, we are to be the physical body of Christ to each other. When another believer hugs me or speaks comforting words in my distress, I feel God’s arms around me and I hear his voice. Knowing God is too often merely equated with a spiritual and emotional high in the setting of my individual encounter with God but the paradox is that in giving ourselves to others in sacrificial service, we come to know him more and, as a byproduct of this, we may have a deep sense of fulfillment and pleasure. We meet Christ in others. We are made to live in family and our relationship with God is experienced and nurtured at an individual level but also in community.

Let’s return again to the theme of mystery. We cannot and should not expect our relationship with God to be identical to our human relationships, although there is much common ground. We are brainwashed by modernism and materialism. Both of these contemporary creeds define reality only in terms of what can be seen, touched and measured and we struggle to resist this mind set. But in the kingdom of God we are called, for the moment, to live by faith not sight.

Now we have listed the ways we know God, there seems to be little more to say than to, perhaps rather lamely, encourage believers to accept a certain distance and lack of intimacy compared with human relationships, to lower their expectations and to be careful about the language they use around young believers lest they promote disappointment and cynicism in reaction to what appears to be false advertising. But we cannot leave it there, for something in us cries out for more. Is this a created longing which is ultimately not able to be satisfied, a cruel joke of a divine sadist? Sometimes it feels like that, but there are enough hints in Scripture that my longing is, one day, to be satisfied more fully than I could ever imagine.

Hunger for More
Yes, thankfully, there is more! Some might find the metaphor used in scripture for the closest experience of intimacy very strange and rather distressing, others will delight in it. It is the metaphor of the intimacy of sexual intercourse. The NIV translates Genesis 4:1 (we are back in the garden again) as “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant.” The King James translation reflects the depth of the Hebrew word for sexual intercourse in translating it as “Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived.” It has the connotation of deepest personal knowledge. It is not insignificant that the relationship of the people of God with Christ is likened to a bride and groom. Now when a couple first have intercourse and become “one flesh” it is an expression of the ideal of a deep level of intimacy at every level of their being. Sexual intercourse was not designed to be merely a physical release of tension. It expresses an emotional, mental and spiritual oneness as well. In a good marriage, the pleasure and depth of that knowledge and intimacy is intended to grow over the years. Amazingly, sexual intercourse is seen in Scripture as a foretaste (and remember, this is a metaphor) of the mystery of the closeness of our relationship with God. Paul hints at this in Ephesians 5:31-32 when he exhorts husbands to love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. And to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” This wonderful passage on marriage ends with “the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Another passage that suggests the anticipation of the final celebration and consummation is Revelation 21:2-3: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.’”

Could it be that our relationship with God now, this side of Christ’s return, is like the engagement period of a marriage, a time of growing knowledge and intimacy, and a time of anticipation of more? Now, engagement for the Jews was different from our own understanding of engagement. In contrast to our rather shallow view of engagement, an agreement which can fairly easily be broken if the relationship proves to have problems, engagement for the Jews was a very serious business. It was as serious a commitment as marriage, the only difference being that the couple did not live or sleep together. The price was paid by the man, in the presence of witnesses, and there was a legal and binding contract. Unfaithfulness while they were engaged was punished as adultery. This was a deep level of commitment and the firm foundation for a growing relationship. So in the year of engagement or betrothal the couple would get to know each other by spending time with each other alone and with each other’s family and friends. Tim Stafford writes well of the things we learn about our intimacy with Christ from this metaphor.

Intimacy begins with a shared purpose. An engaged Jewish couple did not have the intimacy of living together, yet they were absolutely committed to a future of living together. They walked in the same direction, their thinking pointed the same way, they made preparations for the same joint future. There was no way back; they could only go forward. So Christians may experience a tender, passing joy with Christ as we prepare to enter the home he is preparing for us. [2] The time spent together allows a growing understanding and appreciation of each other’s personality and temperament. The early days of the courtship are usually enjoyable and satisfying but as time passes in an engagement there is a growing awareness of and longing for the closeness of the consummation of the relationship. Tim Stafford writes of the joy and freedom experienced by many new Christians:

We too have unbelievable freedom with God—unbelievable in comparison with the darkness of life outside Christ. To someone newly initiated into this freedom, the joy is palpable. Many new Christians simply would not know what most of this book is talking about, speaking of frustration and groaning and longing to see Jesus. But after a few months and years they will know. We easily forget how bright the light seemed when we first stepped out of darkness. To those who have spent their lives hanging around God (I am one of these—a church kid) the freedom and joy of life in Christ may even seem minimal and be taken for granted. Getting tired of the engagement period is natural, for the engagement is not an end in itself. In the same way, our engagement to God is not meant to make us comfortable. It is meant to lead to something better, more complete. [3]

Having grown up in a Christian home I, too, have spent a lot of time “hanging around God.” With less idealism and a deeper awareness of the limitations on our experience of God this side of glory, I too, long for the engagement to be over! Tim Stafford writes of a danger common to human relationships and our relationship with God:

The analogy shows how foolish we would be to try to force premature intimacy. I confess that in my more desperate prayers to God I have sometimes sounded like a teenager demanding that a girl “prove her love” by going to bed with him. I refused to take God’s word for his love. I wanted him to prove it to me in drastic fashion. But the partner who insists that his fiancée “prove her love” is, at best, immature and unworthy. The couple who cannot wait for the wedding bed merely cheat themselves; in a sense, they deprive themselves of what they want by taking it prematurely. The fullness of consummated love can only come at the end of a courtship, when the couple has fully experienced the preparation, longing, wondering, waiting, and lastly, celebration. This is hard to understand (as I know too well, having spent many hours trying to explain it to sex hungry teenagers). [4]

Now it is not possible to force intimacy on God and he is not going to “jump the gun,” but I confess that, like Tim Stafford, my prayers for a deeper experience of God sometimes become demanding and desperate. And I have observed some forms of charismatic worship which are equally demanding of God. Christians may be fooled into thinking that the experiences they do have in such settings are the real thing when they are just a pale shadow or even a psychological or satanic counterfeit of what is to come. Now I am not dismissing the possibility of experiences of the presence of God. As I have spoken about this subject most Christians can point to particular times in their lives when they knew the closeness and reality of God in a remarkable and tangible way. However, to expect this level of intimacy as the norm of one’s daily walk with God is misleading and destructive. It leads to a neurotic search for a certain state of mind and to a sense of false guilt, failure or faithlessness when the “high” eludes us.

Faith not Sight
Faith is not a mindless leap in the dark. It is firm belief—based on good evidence—in something that, for the moment, cannot be seen or touched or heard. The writer to the Hebrews says that we live by faith, in hope of what is to come, not by sight, smell, touch or hearing (Hebrews 11:32-40). The repeated phrase, “by faith” runs, like a refrain, through this chapter on the great heroes of the faith. Some had dramatic experiences of deliverance, others had dramatic experiences of terror and martyrdom, “all were commended for their faith, yet none received what had been promised. God had planned something better.”

There is more to come. He has given us so much and I must learn contentment with that but he has also put a hunger in my soul for more of him. Ecclesiastes says that “he has set eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We have only a foretaste of heaven, a glimpse beyond the veil. “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This is one more truth that cannot be forgotten because it gives such deep comfort as we wait for that day when we will see him face to face. It is this. He knows us fully even though we do not know him fully! “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”(Jeremiah 1:5). “I know my sheep and they know me. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10: 14, 27). He comes after us and pursues a relationship with us. He delights in us and loves us so much that he uses all sorts of circumstances to enhance the glory with which we were created in his image, and to purge away our depravity and sin. A relationship with a father who loves us that much involves both delight and discipline but that is a topic for another paper. It is certainly a strange, mysterious and yet very wonderful thing to be completely known by someone who is partially hidden from us.

Jim Packer, in his best-selling and practical book, Knowing God writes:

What matters supremely therefore is not in the last analysis the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment therefore when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love for me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. [5]

This is in fact a deeper level of knowledge than even my wife and I have of each other. Although we have seen, touched, and heard each other for twenty nine years, we still do not know each other as well as God knows us; we are at some level still a mystery to each other. What an amazing confidence to know that I can say anything to God and he will not be surprised, threatened or shocked.

It is almost three summers now since I began to wrestle with this question. I read books about knowing God, I talked to people about their experience of relationship with God, I walked the beautiful cliffs and fields of England and as I walked, I talked out loud (when no human was looking or listening) to God and although I did not hear a voice or see a vision, I seemed to hear His Spirit speaking within my mind and heart:

I know, my child, that for now this unfulfilled desire to know me fully is frustrating for you, but, for the moment, you are to live by faith —not by sight or hearing or touching. Meditate on all that I have told you about me in the hundreds of stories from Genesis to Revelation.

But that is not enough! I want you to live as if I am here, even though you cannot see me, because I am here. Talk to me about what you read in the Scriptures, talk to me about your experience of life, live by the principles (my law and wisdom) that you find in the Bible and you will discover that you know not just about me but you know me personally in a mysterious but real way. I know you through and through and I am with you and I am in you, and I will silently and mysteriously, behind the scenes, seek the best for you. Sometimes I will seem far away and sometimes close. Sometimes I will answer your prayers dramatically, at other times you will wonder why I am so silent. Sometimes I will protect you from illness and accidents and sometimes I will not. Sometimes I will give you clear and detailed guidance and leading; but often I will not, for I have made you a choice-maker and you will learn much about me and about life from making good and bad choices. Sometimes I will allow you to go through great difficulties so that you may learn to trust me more. I may humble you and test you (just as I did the Israelites) in order to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep my commands or not. One day I will allow you to go through death, even though it will grieve me to see you experience the ravages of the effects of sin and death, and in that last valley of the shadow I will be with you. Nothing, yes, nothing, not even suffering and death, can separate you from my love. Then you will be with me for ever.

Another way you can know something of me is among other Christians. I called the church my body because there you can feel the arms of God around you and hear my words of comfort. The church is not perfect and you will sometimes be frustrated and disappointed there too but if you do not live amongst them you miss knowing something of me. Give yourself in service to others, for in them you will meet me.

I know it is difficult to live in a relationship that sometimes feels unreal compared with human relationships but one day you will see me face to face, you will hear my voice and feel my arms around you. You may then also experience my touch as fire (as Isaiah did), as pain when I burn away the impurities and sin in your life, but it is for your good, that you may be more like me. For now, you have not fully received what I have promised along with all the others like you who live by faith. It is not wrong to long, to groan, for more. But wait, as Paul urges you, with patience and eagerness for that day (Romans 8:22-25). Remember, what matters most this side of glory is not so much your subjective experience of me, (or lack of it) but that I know you, I love you, you are precious to me, you are my son, (my daughter) and I have you in my hand.

Remember these things, for you are my servant. I made you, I will not forget you. I have redeemed you. In my right hand are pleasures for ever more. Soon you will have them.




[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1973), p. 37 [2] Tim Stafford, Knowing the Face of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 1986), p. 96-97 [3] Stafford, p. 96-97 [4] Stafford, p. 96-97 [5] Packer, p. 42