The God we can know

September 17th, 2014

Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know [God] the more we will desire to know [God].
—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

I once went to a mountain-climbing school. Actually, my wife Susan sent me to a mountain-climbing school. I had taken an interest in alpine climbing but didn’t really know what I was doing. Susan figured if I was going to risk my life it might be good to get some training. Besides, my life insurance wasn’t paid up.

The next summer I traveled to the state of Washington where I spent a week on a glacier in the Cascades with a guide and two other “students.” My fellow learners were a couple from New York City. Our experience began early in the morning when we were picked up outside our hotel in Seattle. We went first to a park where introductions took place, and we spread out our gear to make sure we all had what was needed. The next stop was a coffee shop before heading to the mountains.

Standing in line for coffee, the guy from New York, who was significantly bigger than me, turned around and said, “Okay, I understand you’re a pastor. Is that right?” I could tell by his tone he was not excited about this possibility. I said, “As a matter of fact I am.” He continued, “Well, let me get this straight right now. I don’t want to hear a bunch of religious stuff all week. Got that? My girlfriend and I are on vacation, and we don’t want to be preached to!”

I responded, “It’s a deal. I’m on vacation and don’t feel like preaching.” He swallowed a shot of espresso like it was whiskey and then ordered an extra large dark roast. This was not someone to mess with! I would learn later that he was Jewish but not active in his faith. His girlfriend had never claimed any religious preference, and our guide had dabbled in many religious systems, currently Buddhism.

We got to the mountains, hiked the long trek to the glacier, and set up camp. Each day we spent ten to twelve hours learning climbing skills. During break times and lunches we sat on rocks and chatted, and the most curious thing happened. Spiritual conversations developed! Sometimes they started quite naturally while talking about the grandeur of the mountains and how they were created. Other times someone brought up an issue of violence in the news and wondered how God could allow such things to happen. Inevitably they would turn to me as the local expert on the topic of God and ask what I thought.

The most amazing episode, however, came on the last morning. For our “final exam” we would summit a local peak. Wake-up call was 2:00 a.m. After the hour-plus it took to eat and gear up, we roped ourselves together and prepared to climb. Right before we departed the guy from New York said, “Wait! Before we start we need the Rev to say a prayer.” Yes, this was the same guy who threatened me five days earlier about preaching. I just about fell out of my harness! A prayer request—from this guy?

I regrouped, asked everyone to hold hands, and led us in prayer roped together and standing on the ice under a clear moonlit sky. I was reminded all over again that we all have yearnings. Deep yearnings. The kind of yearnings that make us wonder about life and this world and what it’s all about. They’re part of what binds us together. Even those of us disinterested in religion, and perhaps even faith, often wonder if there is a God; and if so, what does this God have to do with us?

In many ways the Bible is a story of humanity’s attempt to know God. Sometimes this effort is as obvious as the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Other times the story describes people working hard to avoid God. Many passages in the Old Testament describe people’s fear of what would happen if they saw God’s face. It’s as if we want to know God, but then we’re not so sure.

The Bible also tells a story of God’s desire to be known. The scriptures relate an unfolding drama of God’s never-ending desire to come to us—of God’s revealing. The highest expression of that desire is the gift of God’s self in the person of Jesus.

John’s Gospel records a collection of self-revealing statements by Jesus known as the “I Am” sayings. These statements, rich in imagery and steeped in historical meaning, provide powerful insights into the heart of God and God’s desire to know and be known.

First, we want to understand the images Jesus uses to identify himself: bread, light, good shepherd, gate of the sheep, true vine, way of life, resurrection, and life. Appreciating the historical Jewish roots behind these images opens up a myriad of possible meanings.

Second, we want to discover how those broad meanings connect with our lives today. Jesus defined himself in the context of ordinary, everyday images people easily understood. We can translate these ancient images into applications for contemporary life. What does it mean to experience hunger or need guidance or desire security or want greater power for living? Better yet, how does a relationship with Jesus fulfill these needs? That is the purpose of the “I Am” sayings, which brings us to a third aim.

Even more than insight or application, taking these sayings to heart can bring us into closer connection with Jesus. Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. A living relationship requires nurture and attention. It is deepened with trust and respect. The “I Am” sayings of Jesus invite us into that kind of abiding relationship.

excerpt from: The God We Can Know by Rob Fuquay. Copyright © 2014 by Upper Room Books. Used with permission.

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