THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Columbus was on his fourth voyage in 1504. His ships were grounded in St. Ann's Bay in Jamaica, and the natives revolted and refused to supply the Spaniard with food. There seemed to be no way of escaping the agonies of starvation. Columbus was looking at the almanac, and he learned that a total lunar eclipse was coming. On the evening it was due he called for the natives to assemble and told them that unless they repented and helped them God would blot out the moon, the sun, and the stars, in that order. He pointed to the moon which had already begun to darken. The natives were terrified and begged Columbus to intercede for them. Delivering food was resumed at once, and Columbus promised that disaster would be averted. The darkness passed, and nothing happened, of course, and the natives never revolted again.
Here is an example of the power of knowledge. Because Columbus understood the workings of God's creation, he was able to save his life and the lives of his men. Knowledge enabled him to dominate and manipulate the natives who were ignorant and superstitious. The weak are almost always weak because of ignorance, and the strong are almost always strong because of superior knowledge. This is supported by Scripture, reason, history, and experience. Knowledge is power because it leads to the discovery of the means of power. America is the strongest nation in the world because of its superior technological knowledge, and because it has been able to tap the resources of power in God's creation. Only those nations that are also in possession of this knowledge are any challenge. In some nations wood is still the primary fuel. As nations advance they use greater sources of power right up to nuclear fuel. Growth in knowledge leads to growth in power. This is beyond dispute.
This being so, it follows that growth in the knowledge of God should lead to greater power in the spiritual realm. We do not need to speculate on this, for this is precisely what Peter and the whole of the Bible teaches. Paul longed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. The two go together. In the knowledge of God and of Christ is the power to be and become all that we should be. Peter says in verse 2 that "grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." Grace and peace are two major values for the Christian life, and Peter says they are multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Christ. Growing in grace and peace is a matter of knowing God better.
Then Peter goes on in verse 3 and says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him..." In verse 5 knowledge is one of the things that we are to diligently add to our faith. In verse 8 the goal of all is from the negative side that we shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then in 2:20 Peter says the power that enables men to escape the evil forces of the world is the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He closes this letter by writing, "But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." If we had nothing but II Peter, we could say that the knowledge of God is the power of God, and the means to all His benefits and promises.
This means modern man is so close to the truth and yet so far. The worldly wise know that knowledge is power. In fact, knowledge has become their idol. The success of science in demonstration the power of knowledge has led to knowledge and education being held forth as the panacea for all our problems, and the cure for all our diseases. Knowledge is the modern Messiah, which will bear our burdens and heal our diseases. Salvation through science is the only hope that millions even consider today.
The tragedy is that they have the right answer, but the wrong object. Knowledge is the answer, but not knowledge of the creation, but knowledge of the Creator. Modern man is making the same foolish mistake the ancient wise men made. Paul in Romans 1 says they had the revelation of God, and they could have chosen Him, but in their wisdom they became fools and chose the impersonal handiwork of God and ignored the personal love and purpose of God. Man is becoming an expert on the disease, but ignoring the cure completely. He has the right idea that knowledge is power, but he is blind to the highest and most necessary kind of power that man needs, which is spiritual power. He neglects the knowledge of God, the only source of such power. Modern men, in general, have a thirst for knowledge of everything, but what they most need they most neglect. They are like Mark Twain when he received an invitation to dine with the Emperor of Germany. His little daughter said to him innocently, "You'll soon know everybody except God, won't you papa?" This is the judgment on modern man. He is anxious to know everything and everyone but God.
God is being pushed out of the curriculum in the college of life for masses. There are too many supposedly more realistic and practical subjects to study. The feeling is that what cannot be known according to the scientific method is not really knowledge, but myth and superstition. Science is like the self-sufficient college head who said, "I am the master of this college, and what I don't know isn't knowledge." God is excluded, and the result is man has been able to develop cures for almost everything but the major things, like sin and alienation from God. Science alone is like the medicine chest that one wrote about. Is my finger bleeding and cut nearly off? In my medicine chest there's a cure for a cough. Is a tooth shooting pins out in every direction? Here is something that's good for a hang nail infection. Have I poison ivy and need for a lotion? Well, here, all unused, is a seasick potion. My medicine chest's never known to fail me...It's bursting with cures for what doesn't ail me.
This is the weakness of science when it comes to the issue of solving the sin problem, which keeps individuals and the world in the same miserable mess in spite of all the scientific successes. Physical power is not enough, for man need spiritual power, and this can only be found in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. The task of the church is not to denounce science and growth in the knowledge of the natural. This is both futile and foolish, for man's mistake is not in studying God's creation. It is in neglecting to study God Himself. This would enable man to use his knowledge of creation for even more good to fulfill the purpose of its Creator. The Christian is not for the prevention of the knowledge of creation, but for the promotion of the knowledge of the Creator.
Over half a century ago Thomas Huxley praising the advances of science declared that the nation which sticks closest to the facts will dominate the future. Edward Miall, a member of Parliament agreed, but he added, "The greatest fact is God." This is what we must believe and persuade others to believe; and not just non-Christians, but Christians as well. They are often the cause for the unbeliever ignoring God. Believers often have such a poor, small and pathetic conception of God that the unbeliever feels that He is an irrelevant fact. Goethe wrote, "As a man is, so is his God, therefore was God so often an object of mockery." Someone said that if a triangle had a god it would give him three sides. In other words, God created us in His image, and we tend to return the favor and reduce Him to our image. Emerson put it, "The god of the cannibal will be a cannibal, of the crusader a crusader, and of the merchant a merchant." Walter Bagehot wrote,
The Ethiop gods have Ethiop lips,
Bronze cheeks, and woolly hair,
The Grecian gods are like the Greeks
As keen-eyed, cold, and fair.
All of this is natural, and usually harmless, but it can lead to great danger, and even evil, as men develop a god to justify all they do. Willilam James, the great student of religious experience, said, "The God of many men is little more than the court of appeal against the damnatory judgment passed on their failures by the opinions of the world." A very non-subtle example of this is the little girl who insisted that there was a lion in her front yard. Her mo;ther ordered her to go up to her bedroom and ask God to forgive her for lying. In a short time she returned with this happy report. She said, "God said never you mind Mary, that bid dog pretty near fooled me too." It is funny as a girl, but tragic if she continues to use God to justify her stubbornness as an adult.
A false knowledge of God is possibly even worse than lack of knowledge. We must avoid the practice of being chummy with God. It only reveals our ignorance and not a depth ;of Knowledge. It is often our false pretense that drives people away from God. Let us be honest and admit that we are pilgrims with a long way to go, and let us stand in awe and silence before that which we already know of God. Let God be God and tremble, and do not cloud His light with the darkness of our ignorance. Do not hold the puny candle of your mind before the infinite depths of the mystery of God and pretend that you see. Be still and know that e is God, and that we, like Paul, only see through a glass darkly. Christopher P. Cranch wrote,
Thou so far we grope to grasp Thee,
Thou so near we cannot clasp Thee;
All pervading Spirit flowing
Through the worlds, yet past our knowing;
Artist of the solar spaces
And these humble human faces..
Though all mortal races claim Thee;
Though all language fail to name Thee;
Human lips are dumb before Thee;
Silence only may adore Thee.
Hab. 2:20 says, "But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him."
We must stress the majesty and mystery of God even as we grow in more and more intimate knowledge lest we become too familiar, and by loose language bring offense rather than glory. Let us never reduce God to our image, and our puny righteousness. We never will if we obey the words of Peter, and grow in the knowledge of God. This is the way to the mature, abundant, and powerful Christian life. The idea was not new with Peter, for the knowledge of God was also the very essence of Judaism. The knowledge of God is a key theme in the Old Testament. The whole purpose of the book of Proverbs was to help men understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. One knew nothing of importance until he knew God, for the fear of the Lord was the beginning of knowledge.
When Israel lacked knowledge of God she lost all the values of life that made her useful to man and pleasing to God. For example, in Hos. 4:1-3 we read, "Here the Word of the Lord, O people of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, lying, killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bonds and murder follows murder. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish." It sounds like today's newspaper report on our own society. The difference is it states clearly the cause and solution for the mess. In verse 6 God says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, because you have rejected knowledge I reject you.
When a nation departs from the knowledge of God every value of the good life departs from them, and evil and decay take their place. Grace and peace, and all the blessings of God come to the individual and the nation by the same means. They are found in the knowledge of God, and so the only true solution for personal, national, and international problems, is to grow in the knowledge of God. In Hos. 6:1,3,6 this is made clear: "Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, that He may heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up...Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord....(God says,) for I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. God wants us to know Him. This is the essence of biblical religion.
God wants no part of thoughtless and mechanical ritual. To worship God right we must worship in spirit and in truth. We must be students we wrestle and struggle with language and ideas as we seek to know God in truth, and love Him with all of our mind as well as heart and soul. Christians need to become better students of God's Word. We should think of the church as a university, and not merely a place for fellowship. We should be coming to church to learn what God has revealed about Himself. It is not enough just to get good feelings, for the goal of all we do in church is to grow in the knowledge of God.
I am convinced that American Christians are the greatest wasters of resources for knowing God in history. We have resources beyond the imagination of the Apostle Peter. We could know far more about God's Word than he did if we made diligent use of these resources. Our problem is that we do not invest our time in the study of His Word. The most important thing we can do in this world is to grow in the knowledge of God and of Christ our Lord.
Nathanial Michlem of Mansfield College, Oxford has written a poem of a blind girl who sewed by day and read her Braille Bible each night. Her fingers became callused and the letters in her Bible were no longer readable. Frantically she sought a way of restoring her sensitive touch by paring away the calluses. She discovered the pain was so great that she could not sew or read. Then came the evening when she raised her Braille Bible to her lips to kiss it farewell before she placed it on the shelf. She discovered that her sensitive lips quivering in sadness were able to distinguish the letters, and she could kiss the words into life again. She found a new method of knowing God's Word through her lips, and she went on growing in the knowledge of God. If your method of Bible study has become stale, and your mind callused and no longer sensitive to the Word of God, do not put your Bible on the shelf, but search for a new method to kiss the Word into life again. Experiment and never cease, for all the blessings and power for the abundant life can only be yours as you grow in the knowledge of God.