A good friend is someone who gets us. They know what we have been through, how we think, and what we like. They listen and engage with us, and they bring out our best.
But no one knows us better than God. As Psalm 139 says so beautifully:
O LORD, you search me and you know me.
You yourself know my resting and my rising;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down;
You know all my ways through and through.
Before ever a word is on my tongue,
You know it, O LORD, through and through.
Behind and before, you besiege me,
Your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge;
too high, beyond my reach
(Grail translation, verses 1-6).
From the very beginning, the psalm indicates that this knowledge God has of us is passionately personal: ‘O Lord, you search me.’ Other translations also read ‘examined’ or ‘probed.’ God seeks to know us thoroughly and intimately. As the psalm says ‘You know all my ways through and through.’
Within the expanse of the self, the multitudes that we contain within ourselves, God seeks out our true self, He penetrates to the core of our being. As a result, God ends up knowing us better than ourselves. As the psalm says, He knows what we are going to say before even we do. “Too wonderful for me, this knowledge; too high, beyond my reach.”
Only God can truly know us—better than any friend or family member precisely because He is God. This is why British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, a Catholic convert, said that when he reached heaven he looked forward to being introduced to himself.
The truth of God’s knowledge of us is reflected elsewhere in the Old Testament:
You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
Surely then you would count my steps (Job 14:15-16).
You have tested my heart,
searched it in the night (Psalm 17:3).
If we had forgotten the name of our God,
stretched out our hands to another god,
Would not God have discovered this,
God who knows the secrets of the heart? (Psalm 44:21-22).
LORD, you know me, you see me,
You have found that my heart is with you (Jeremiah 12:3).
In the gospels God’s intimate knowledge of us—He even knows the hairs on our head—is presented by Jesus as an example of His fatherly solicitude for us, especially towards the material needs of our lives (see Matthew 10).
What the Old Testament is talking about is certainly related but it is also distinct. What the above verses have in mind is a kind of interior knowledge. In Psalm 139 and elsewhere such knowledge is presented a function of God as Creator, protector, and Redeemer.
But such knowledge also makes something else possible: friendship with God. The very first verse of Psalm 139 suggests this, in describing how God ‘searches’ us out. His knowledge of us is not static and abstract. He knows us in our deepest interiority but not in the way that a brain surgeon or psychiatrist does. God’s knowledge of us, as sketched in the Old Testament, has all the dynamism of a personal relationship.
We know from the New Testament that God formally invites us to this friendship through Jesus (see John 15:15). But the foundation for this friendship is clearly laid out in the Old Testament. As Job says, God does not just ‘sit’ on this knowledge He has of us. He calls out to us and we are impelled to respond. Likewise, the God of Jeremiah is a personal God: ‘You know me, you see me’ and ‘my heart is with You.’
The wording of Jeremiah is very telling: God knows us so well, probing to the depths of our hearts, that our heart is always with His—not just in an ontological sense, but also in a personal sense of friendship with what we might call a kindred spirit.
Such friendship with God is a truly wonderful thing to contemplate. It means that even in those awful moments when we feel like no one understands what we are going through—when we think no one gets me—there is One who does. It means that even though we might feel it, we are never truly alone—never truly without a friend. And it means that in those particular storms of life that leave us so shaken that we question who we are we can take some comfort in knowing that God knows even if we don’t.