Let all our employment be to know God: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love: and if our love of God were great, we should love Him equally in pains and pleasures. – Samuel Rutherford
To say that God is your ultimate love when you do not know him may be sheer sentimentalism. To sing songs which claim ultimate devotion, dependence or delight in God when you know little of him, may be feigned love. Loving God is not something we do by sheer act of will, or by imagining that our desire to love God counts as loving God.
Loving God is all a matter of response. We love God as a response to seeing and understanding who he is. Worship, or loving God ultimately, is not the spontaneous, creative expression of humans which can then be pinned on God, regardless of his nature. Worship is an appropriate, corresponding response to who God is. Who God is, what he has done, what he has said, and what he has promised form the basis of our love for him. Unless God chooses to reveal himself, human worship devolves into blind idolatry. In other words, central to the pursuit of loving God is knowing God.
What else in life do we love without some knowledge? No one trusts in something unless he has some understanding or assumption of its trustworthiness. People are committed to causes or people they have come to experience as desirable. And no one delights in something he knows nothing about.
The priority of the Christian life can only be achieved through a process. The process of the Christian life is one of coming to know God for his beauty. When we know him as he is, regenerated hearts cannot help admiring, desiring and trusting in him. Paul’s singleminded desire to gain Christ and be found in him was so that he could know him (Phil 3:8-10). He knew that knowing Christ was the secret to loving him wholeheartedly.
Some Christians think that the life of faith is one of loving a God we do not know. This is fundamentally wrong. Faith is emphatically not loving a God we do not know; faith is loving a God we do not see with our physical eyes.
That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, (1 Peter 1:7-8)
We can love the unseen; we can never love the unknown. Faith is the response of enlightened hearts to what cannot be seen physically or measured empirically: divine revelation. Believing is not an act of treating the untrue as true, or imagining the unreal to be real. Faith is a reaction to revelation. We love God because he reveals himself to us, and in seeing him, we come to love him.
We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.– Brother Lawrence
Knowing God is personal knowledge gained in a relationship. When we think about a human relationship, fundamental to the relationship’s growth is that the persons must be in one another’s presence. They must spend time together in real communion. While it is true that technologies like the Internet have made it possible for relationships to continue over vast distances, most would agree that being in a loved one’s presence is superior to reading an email or seeing an image on a screen.
From the beginning of the Bible to its end, we find an emphasis on God’s people knowing him through an experienced relationship in his presence. God desires to be in the presence of his people, and desires that they be in his. In that place, they may behold his beauty, reflect his glory and love him ultimately. God’s experienced presence with his people is not the same as his omnipresence. Although God is in all places, God chooses to manifest his presence in certain ways and places that reveal his attributes.1 Heaven is such a place. The presence of God with his people is a place of favour, in which God is manifested in his Word and works. God has always wanted his people to experience this particular kind of manifestation of his presence.
A Tour of Scripture
We know that man begins in innocence in the Garden of Eden, God’s garden, where they lived in God’s presence as his chosen people. Apparently, the Lord would appear daily in the cool of the day and walk and talk with them. After they had sinned, they no longer loved this.
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8 )
As judgement for their sin, they were driven out from the Garden, which was the same as being driven out from the communing presence of the Lord. When Cain killed Abel and was judged, it is said explicitly that he went out from the presence of the Lord (Gen 4:16).
Now that man was a sinner, God could not be present with him in the same way. However, in grace, he continued to call individuals to himself so that they could be in his presence, and he could be in theirs. Noah and Enoch are held up as exemplary, as what singled them both out was that they ‘walked with God.’ (Gen 5:24, 6:9)
God’s desire for man to live again in his presence became focused on one man – Abram, through whom God would raise up a people to live in his presence.
When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him, saying, “I am God Almighty. Live in My presence and be devout. (Genesis 17:1 HCSB)
God’s program with Israel continued through the Patriarchs, to Israel’s covenanting with God as a nation with God as their King. Listen to the language describing this covenant relationship:
I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. And they will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God. (Exodus 29:45-46)
I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. (Leviticus 26:12)
In fact, it is God’s communing presence with a people that identifies them as his people. Moses says just this:
Now if I have indeed found favor in Your sight, please teach me Your ways, and I will know You and find favor in Your sight. Now consider that this nation is Your people.” Then He replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” “If Your presence does not go,” Moses responded to Him, “don’t make us go up from here. How will it be known that I and Your people have found favor in Your sight unless You go with us? I and Your people will be distinguished by this from all the other people on the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:13-16)
God’s intention is that by living with his people, they learn what kind of God he is. They see his ways, his works, his purposes, his desires, and his loves. Just as we learn to love our spouses or our children or our friends by knowing them through being with them, so it is in a relationship with God. Israel came to know God because he lived among them.
- “There are four degrees of God’s presence: The first is universal, by which God is repletively everywhere, inclusively nowhere; secondly, special, by which God is said to be in heaven, because that there his power, wisdom, and goodness is in a more excellent manner seen and enjoyed (Psal. xix. 1; Hos. ii. 21); as also because that usually he doth from thence pour forth his blessings and Judgments; thirdly, more special, by which God dwelleth in his saints (1 Cor. iii. 16; ; 2 Cor. vi. 16); fourthly, most special, and altogether singular, by which the whole fulness of the Godhead dwelleth in Christ bodily (Col. ii. 8.) (Lewis Bayly, The Practice of Piety : Directing a Christian How to Walk, that He May Please God (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2003), 31. [↩]