The Facts of Life Series: Knowing God Intimately
Belief, any belief, must rest on evidence, on fact, on truth. Otherwise, belief is just an arbitrary notion, a personal perceptual preference, an idea that claims it is real and true, but which offers no substantiation of its claims.
For a belief without evidence is at best a vacuous guess. Even an educated guess, even a working hypothesis provides some modicum of supportive evidence, while deliberately limiting the assertion of the hypothesis’ truth claims until further supportive evidence surfaces. That is why Catholics have been involved in apologetics from the very beginning. The Catholic faith has always justified its beliefs with rational and practical evidence, with revelational and historical evidence, with spiritual and epiphanic evidence.
Despite this breadth of evidence for belief in the Catholic God, believing often takes on an idiosyncratic nature based on the personality and circumstances, the mind and emotions of each person, as they explore the reality of God. Some people are more intuitive in their approach to God; others are more circumspect about the whole question. Some look to order and rationality, science and history, while others find emotion and morality more compelling and enticing to their search, just as others find God in beauty and altruism, as well as in evil and sin.
But, there is a reality to the search for God, almost every seeker and every believer overlooks or undervalues. And, it remains a constant regardless of individual idiosyncrasies, preferences or interests. That constant, that reality is the fact that God is seeking you, not generally, but specifically, personally. For that is what love does.
God is not a passive entity or some blind and empty force. He is a being, the perfect being, the embodiment of all truth and all goodness, the epitome of all beauty and all love. He loves each of us and all of us. And, He wants us to know that He exists. That He is real and He is near. That He is active and He is intimate, as intimate as we will let Him.
For there is another kind of knowing about God that is more than evidentiary. This form of knowing encompasses the many forms of evidence about God’s existence and His nature and handiwork. But, it also transcends them. Scientific evidence and deductive proofs, morality’s principles and instincts, beauty’s essence and many manifestations, the martyrs and the saints, the magnificent and the mundane aspects of life itself tells us of a mighty and loving God, who is truth, goodness and beauty personified, who is all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present.
Yet, this other kind of knowing does not challenge or change any of these. It fulfills them. For evidence such as these show us God Himself. His character. His nature. His perfection. But the whole point of this is not mere knowledge or belief. It is your personal intimacy with Him. And, His personal intimacy with you.
For He is the God who loves you, seeks you, longs for you just as the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In that teaching, the father searches the horizon for his wayward and lost son. And, when he sees the lost son, he runs to him. He embraces the son and kisses him, ignoring the lost son’s apology and explanation. He celebrates the son’s return showering him with gifts and celebration, for the son who was lost now is found.
This is the God of our proofs and our history, our tradition and our individual and collective experience. This is our God, a God who loves us fully, perfectly, relentlessly. And, He desires us to come to reciprocate His loving intimacy every moment of our lives. For he knows how to love us individually and perfectly and He wants us to know Him deeply, not just to know about Him.
To illustrate the importance and profundity of this idea, my Greek professor in graduate school used his initial lecture to introduce it. He opened class by asking us what the opposite of “knowledge” was. We responded pretty quickly that the opposite of “knowledge” was “ignorance.” You either know something or you don’t.
But then, he told us that was a Greco-Roman way of thinking about knowledge. Then, he asked, what would St. Paul, who was a Hebrew, have called the opposite of “knowledge.” While we pondered this for a bit, we responded, though more tentatively than our initial response, with the same answer — “ignorance.”
Once again, he corrected us. He told us, “ignorance” is an information concept that affirms “knowledge” as simply that — information. But, to St. Paul, the Hebrew, the opposite of “knowledge” was not “ignorance”, but “estrangement, interpersonal distance, even rebellion.” He went on to explain that both information and estrangement elucidate different ways of knowing, though the informational mode is subsumed by the greater relational way of knowing. And, they both apply simultaneously when it comes to God. We can know about Him and, at the same time, know Him personally, relationally, intimately immediately.
Just as you can know about a person, you can’t really know them until you spend time with them personally. And, the more time you spend, in a variety of circumstances and activities, the more fully and intimately you will know them. So too, with God. Knowing about God is not just information, it is an opportunity for an experience of Him and with Him, too. For knowledge about God is simultaneously an experience of God.
For example, the study of theology and apologetics, entails knowing about God, His existence, His nature. Yet, it is also an opportunity to experience Him directly and immediately, informationally and relationally. This broad, holistic understanding of “knowing” and its concomitant spirituality makes mystical encounters possible in the most mundane of circumstance, in the most intellectual of activities, in the mental, emotional, practical moments of our regular lives and living.
For not only can we “know about” God in any and all of our activities, we can “know of” Him, as well. We can because that is the way God is and that is the way He made us.“Knowing about” Him is “knowing of” Him. And, this proximate, intimate and active God, who desires us to know Him in the fullest relational sense, seeks us first, seeks us too, in the general way He does for all His children and in the particular idiosyncratic way for each of us as individuals. For He is our perfect loving Father. And, He wants us to know that too. That He loves us perfectly and that He is ever with us.
We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.