To Know God — Center for Action and Contemplation

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To Know God

Ways of Knowing

To Know God
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Today, we continue with Robert McAfee Brown, who uses an excerpt from the Book of Jeremiah to describe knowing God:

What does it mean to “know God”? Who are the ones who know God?

The questions seem simple and answers come immediately to mind. Those who know God are the ones who have had some experience of God about which they are able to tell us—sometimes a little too easily and glibly to be fully convincing, but sometimes in halting and fumbling ways that are themselves authentic pointers to the magnitude and awesomeness of the encounter they are trying to describe. Such people will tell us that they have found God in the face of another person, or in a sunset, or in a compulsion to obey a moral demand, or in a sense of the immensity of space and their own smallness, or by reading the Bible, or through meditating on the life of Jesus. The ones we call the “saints” are often those from whom we get our clearest picture of what it must be like to know God; their lives of prayer and meditation and good works have a transparent goodness that makes their appeal to the name and will of God convincing and compelling.

In contrast to such people, we know other people who make no such claims whatever. . . . For some of them, God is simply not an issue, and they live good, decent lives apparently unruffled by concern about God’s reality or nonreality. . . . For still others, God is something or someone they have consciously discarded. . . . They may live exemplary lives, exhibit concern for the neighbor, even make sacrifices for the cause of the poor and the destitute. But they no longer claim to “know God.”

The above description is fairly commonplace . . . but we will be doing serious violation to the Bible’s understanding of what it means to “know God” if we leave it at that. There is a short—and startling—episode in the book of Jeremiah [22:13-17] that poses the question of “knowing God” in quite another way.

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing,
and does not give him his wages;
who says, “I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,”
and cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion.
Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
says the Lord.
But you have eyes and heart
only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.

I, Richard, would ask, if a “believer” does not practice some level of nonviolent justice and compassionate action, do they really know God?

Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (The Westminster Press: 1984), 63-65.

Image credit: Tableau No. 2/Composition No. VII (detail), Piet Mondrian, 1913, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Perhaps it was the strangeness of the setting, perhaps it was the power of the moment, but, as I stood there, those stones began to speak. It was a clacking sound, a clattering sound, like the fluttering of wings, the descent of birds, the pounding of a hundred thousand hooves across the frozen tundra. —Kent Nerburn
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