The Meaning of Communion
Loves are grown when our nature fits us to love them, and when we adopt postures that enable us to love them. Perhaps though, the greatest and purest form of developing a new desire is through exposure. Loves are learned by repeated exposure to their beauty. This is the exposure that leads our souls to a new taste:
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psa 34:8)
This exposure to the beauty of God, leading us to ultimate need-love and ultimate gift-love, is communion with God. Living in God’s presence, and beholding his beauty is at the heart of knowing and loving God. What does it mean to commune with God? We can say at least five things about communion with God.
1) Communion with God is personal communion.
The knowledge that comes in communion is the knowledge of a relationship. Knowing God is knowing a person. In fact, it is knowing the three persons who make up the Godhead. Knowing people is a specific kind of knowledge. Knowing about chemical reactions is not the same kind of knowledge as knowing your spouse. One kind of knowledge is empirical knowledge: knowledge we gain about the physical world through investigation with instruments or the observation of our senses. The other is personal knowledge: discovering a person through a relationship of trust, love and honour. If a man were to try to know his prospective wife through empirical means, it would not only fail to bring him the kind of knowledge he needs, it would be demeaning to her. If he hired a private investigator to track her movements, carried a clipboard around and wrote down observations about her daily habits, went through her private correspondence, and interviewed other people about her, she would not be flattered, but insulted. A person is not an object to be studied and measured. A person is to be known through a voluntary relationship.
To treat the knowledge of God like an experiment in a test-tube will certainly fail to bring any meaningful knowledge of him. God does not reveal himself to those who regard him as a specimen to be dissected. All the atheists who wish God to show up on their instrumentation will only be confirmed in their disbelief. If I do not have to ‘prove’ my existence to people by submitting to a science experiment, how much less should God?
Knowing logical theorems is not at all like knowing your child. One kind of knowledge is rational knowledge: knowledge we gain by logical deduction. The other is personal knowledge: knowing a person within an established attitude of trust, love, and honour. To attempt to know someone by merely reasoning from certain premises to certain conclusions will certainly be little more than a sterile relationship. People are not known this way. They are known by being in their presence, speaking to them, and experiencing life together. While apologists may establish the probability of God’s existence through rational or evidential means, they cannot prove his existence. This is simply not how we know other persons.
Here we see why many never come to know him at all, or progress very little in knowing him. Proverbs 1:7 makes it clear:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The beginning of all knowledge is an approach to God of reverence and awe. This hardly tries to “prove” God through rationalism or empiricism, it assumes him, and approaches with the appropriate affection: reverential awe. A New Testament parallel is Hebrews 11:6:
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
This is Paul’s point in Romans 1. God is unavoidable and perceived by all through creation and conscience. Avoidance of this hard-wired knowledge is a form of deception – suppressing truth inconvenient to oneself. No further knowledge can occur if one is building on a lie. The medieval anonymous author of Theologica Germanica wrote, “And he who would know before he believeth, cometh never to true knowledge…We speak of a certain Truth which it is possible to know by experience, but which ye must believe in, before that ye know it by experience, else ye will never come to know it truly.”1
If the beginning of knowledge is assuming God that is a three-personal being to be honoured, what will happen if this is not in place? What will happen if a person comes to God expecting him to prove himself? What will happen if a person tries to put God in the test-tube of his own thought-experiments? What will happen if he treats abstract analytical or conceptual theological ideas as a substitute for direct communion with God? Surely he will fail to gain any further knowledge. An error in the first line will make the whole sum wrong. God will not be gawked at, peered at, probed, objectively analysed or investigated, any more than any other person with a shred of dignity would. To the extent that you treat God as an object, you diminish your capacity to know him as a subject.
If we are to love God, we must beware of trying to know God in any other way than as a person. Certainly, logic and reason play their valuable part in coming to know God. Experience performs a vital role in knowing God. However, these are tools that assist us in knowing the personal being who is God, not the route we take to get to him.
- Anonymous (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1996), 58. [↩]