The Problem With Just Knowing About God

Transfiguration_of_Christ_Icon_Sinai_12th_centuryGrowing up in Wyoming, I had seen quite a few horses by the time I was finishing elementary school. Some of my friends even owned them. And I had certainly watched enough movies to be fairly certain that if the opportunity ever presented itself, I’d be able to ride one of those things. I wouldn’t say I was as student of horses, but I knew about them. I knew you put your feet in the stirrups, and you used the reins to steer. Probably you were going to need some boots and a hat. And chaps seemed like a pretty good idea if as nothing more than a cool fashion accessory.

I think I was maybe ten or so when I actually first sat on a horse and went for a ride, up close and personal.  If I remember correctly we were camping in the Tetons and dad hooked us up. It was quite an eye-opening experience, because from the moment we got to the corral, I realized I may have known about horses, but I didn’t know horses. I had what you might call an intellectual appreciation. What I was about to get was far more up close, intimate, if you will.

Here’s what I learned: horses are stinky, their hides are pretty rough, they do not make for a very smooth ride, and they are more powerful, majestic and beautiful than they appear in photos, television or the movies. I feel like I was starting to actually know horses, not just know about them. Or, at least the difference between the two was becoming clear for me.

There is a huge difference between knowing and knowing about something. And nowhere does that matter more than when it comes to Jesus. It is one thing to know about Jesus, another thing entirely to know Him. J.I. Packer made this brilliant distinction in his classic book, Knowing God, but I think Paul was also trying to get this point across in his letter to the Ephesians. He wrote:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know (oikeios) what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)

The word he uses–to know– is the Greek word oikeios. And it means an intimate knowledge, like when you belong to a family or are married. If you’ve ever been in a family, or a  you know the kind of intimacy he’s talking about. You really get to know people in that setting. It is not an intellectual knowledge, it is experiential.

I think that is what I love so much about the transfiguration. Peter, James and John got an intimate, insider look at who Jesus really was, that the masses, for the most part, didn’t get. And it blew them away. They could hardly look at him it was so amazing.

And that’s what Paul wants for us to have with God, through Jesus, because there is some pretty amazing things this kind of knowledge is going to do to us. He lists three things he is praying we would know: the hope of His calling, the riches of our inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of His power towards us.

As I think about each one of those things, I realized it is a far better thing to have an intimate, up close and personal knowledge of hope, riches and power, than to have a distant, intellectual, knowledge about them. If you’re going to promise me hope, or riches, or power I want to know them, experience them, live in the same house as them.

And that’s what Paul wants for you, too.

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