Christianity 201

July 26, 2020

The God You Can Know; The God Who Wants to be Known

NLT.Phil.3.10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death

There has been quite an outpouring of tributes following the death of J. I. Packer. I would say more than I expected. I posted a very brief tribute to him at Thinking Out Loud, and just eight days ago I ran a series of quotations by him here at C201. But today I felt led to see if anyone had posted a larger book excerpt — transcribing things is half the battle — and found this excerpt from his most popular book.

Knowing God was first published in 1973, with a 20th Anniversary edition published in ’93. You can learn more about the book at the website of its publisher, InterVaristy Press (IVP), where you will also find this tribute. Knowing God may also be read as a 365-day devotional published by IVP under the title Knowing God Through the Year.

The excerpt below was not originally paragraphed so what appears may slightly vary from the paragraphing in my print copy (which I can’t locate right now!) Material below is © InterVarsity Press.

Knowing God

…[U]nlike horses, people keep secrets.

They do not show everybody all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still have to say at the end of that time, “I don’t really know him at all.”

We recognize degrees in our knowledge of our fellow men. We know them, we say, well, not very well; just to shake hands with, intimately, or perhaps inside out, according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us. Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them.

When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them goodwill and to open up in a friendly way from our side. From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not.

Imagine, now, that we are going to be introduced to someone whom we feel to be “above” us; whether in rank, or intellectual distinction, or professional skill, or personal sanctity, or in some other respect. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we shall feel that our part is simply to attend to this person respectfully and let him take the initiative in the conversation. (Think of meeting the queen of England or the president of the United States.) We would like to get to know this exalted person, but we fully realize that this is a matter for him to decide, not us. If he confines himself to courteous formalities with us, we may be disappointed, but we do not feel able to complain; after al, we had no claim on his friendship.

But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged, and it will make a world of difference to our general outlook. If life seemed unimportant and dreary hitherto, it will not seem so anymore, now that the great man has enrolled us among his personal assistants.

Here is something to write home about-and something to live up to!

Now this, so far as it goes, is an illustration of what it means to know God. Well might God say through Jeremiah, “Let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me”—for knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart. What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the words and truths of Holy Scripture.

Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you—you!—through the biblical message. As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness.

But this is not all.

You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague; in Barth’s phrase, a covenant partner. It is a staggering thing, but it is true — the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (see 1 Cor 3:9) and personal friends.

The action of God in taking Joseph from prison to become Pharaoh’s Prime Minister is a picture of what he does to every Christian: from being Satan’s prisoner, you find yourself transferred to a position of trust in the service of God. At once life is transformed. Whether being a servant is a matter for shame or for pride depends on whose servant one is.

Many have said what pride they felt in rendering personal service to Sir Winston Churchill during World War II. How much more should it be a matter of pride and glorying to know and serve the Lord of heaven and earth! What, then, does the activity of knowing God involve?

Holding together the various elements involved in this relationship, as we have sketched it out, we must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.


NIV.I Cor.9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

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