The Both and of Knowing God

There are a couple of ways that we can know. We can know in an epistemological sense and an experiential heart sense. Our western culture has been significantly shaped by Greek philosophical thinking. It forms a lens that shapes the way we see and engage reality. Epistemology is basically the way we can know about a thing by engaging with it from the outside. We observe it as an outsider, we reduce it to its components, and we measure it. This is not a wrong way of knowing. It is the basis for science and many of the wonderful discoveries.

There is another way we can know. It is found in subjectivity. In the inner experience of what it is like to be. For example, we can describe Vicki - hair colour, height, weight, occupation, even her likes and dislikes, but what is much harder to know is what it is like to be Vicki.

Vicki is much more than the sum total of her height, weight, blood type, allergies, and hair colour. Vicki is much more than her hobbies, political leanings, or who she is married to. To get to know what it is like to be Vicki, we first need to be aware there is more to being Vicki. Second, we need to develop a relationship with Vicki. To spend time with her, listen to her, engage her, share life together so we can begin to glimpse who Vicki is and what it's like to be Vicki.

So it is with God.

Much of what passes for discipleship and faith in western Protestant circles is right belief ABOUT God. In our inherited tradition with its creeds and statements of faith, if we can say "yes" to a set of religious ideas, we are considered faithful, regardless of how we conduct ourselves or even whether we have engaged our faith in deeper ways of knowing.

Sometimes our best thinking about God can become a great hiding place from God. For example, we can talk all day about love, sharing insights and theories, but if we never actually actively love or let ourselves be loved, we can't possibly know love.

Don't get me wrong - good thinking about God is important but is not in and of itself enough to transform us and coax us towards great wholeness or, if you prefer, Christ-likeness.

In a Hebrew context, to know was to have experience with a thing/person/God. Rugged faith is not built on intellectual assent to doctrines, the stories of people of old or even the superstar saints - the faith of others. Faith becomes rugged when it is based on our own encounters and experience with God. I describe it as a deep kiss experience of faith. Sometimes this is dramatic and sometimes a slow burn. The point is it is a personal, intimate relationship with the divine.

Our good thinking can inform our experience, and our experience can bring a depth of life to our good thinking. This is an example of the both/and of knowing.

I write more on this topic:

Photo credit:  by Colton Jones on Unsplash

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