Today’s conversation is on knowing God and the scale of relationship in knowing. I can know someone in a relatively shallow way, or in a very deep way. And we can know God in a shallow or a deep way.
And there’s so much shame in my own experience surrounding knowing God: that I’m not good enough to know Him deeply; that I only deserve to know Him in a shallow way; that deep intimacy with God is reserved for the Christians who have it all figured out.
Fear that keeps us from connecting with God or people can happen pretty naturally. Our goal is not to figure all of this out or find completion today, but to process and learn more about the things that might be keeping us from deeper connection, and to see how those things, even if they’re overwhelming and feel like they control our lives sometimes, are not actually true. They’re not actually how God might see us or how He relates to us. They might be lies that have kept us in cycles in patterns for years. I say this because it’s been true in my experience.
What is something you were afraid of as a child? Why did that scare you so much?
What is something you’re afraid of now? Why does it scare you?
Think about that thing you’re afraid of. What if it’s not real? Not to insult anyone’s experience, but what if that thing has been lying to you all along? What if you didn’t have to be afraid of it?
The reality is, as humans, we’re all afraid of something. I think there is a place we are invited to in God where we trust Him more and fear doesn’t rule our lives, but I think at our base there’s some level of fear that tries to get us down. And fear can play out in especially destructive ways in relationships with other people and with God. I think about my own fear--fear of not being good enough--and how that has plagued me since I was a child. Feeling like I’m not good enough for people and trying to put on a good show so that people will like me. Feeling like I’m not good enough for God and choosing to run away from Him because I can’t stand to be in His presence if I’m not good enough.
We might have some level of religious/faith “trauma” attached how we relate to God.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
We might have Scriptural knowledge of how we’re supposed to treat fear but without experiential knowledge, and the very thing that’s supposed to give us fuller life actually condemns our hearts and drives us further into shame or more fear. I can read these verses, but without experiencing truth they can become a standard against which I measure my life. I’m either doing good (if I’m doing these things right) or I’m doing bad (if I’m doing these things poorly.) And all along God is saying, “I’ve already made you right.”
I need to remember that when Satan tempted Jesus he didn’t use some scary thing, or something unfamiliar to Jesus. He tried to trick him with Scripture. The same verses we can read that are meant to give us life can be used against us.
So knowing that, and knowing that there must be a way to live where I’m not afraid of God (at least according to Scripture), what are the things that make me afraid of God?
What are some reasons people are afraid of God?
Maybe we’ve been told that we have to fear God. Or we’ve read about fearing God in the Bible, and it doesn’t really make sense but it’s in the Bible so we should probably make sure we’re afraid of God. Because there are verses like the ones above, but then there are other verses that seem to say the opposite: Scriptures that talk about being God fearing. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear only God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
This is where deeper study of Scripture can be really really important. Looking deeper into word meanings shows that these pictures are actually pictures of reverence toward God. The word used for fear isn’t terror; it’s respect.
But maybe I’ve misinterpreted these for most of my life and am terrified of God. Maybe the God that we’ve been raised with is angry and unpredictable, or cold and distant. Maybe our gender or our skin colour don’t match the God we were told about, and we are literally fundamentally different.
Maybe we’ve been told that God knows everything, and if he knows our deepest secrets, then how could he be anything but angry or disgusted with us? If God REALLY knew me, would he actually still love me?
Maybe the people in spiritual authority in our lives, who were supposed to model God’s love to us, did a really really bad job.
Whatever the case may be, many of us are probably at a point at which we have an incorrect fear of God. And how we got there doesn’t really matter. It’d be important to process all that out, but the reality of fear is its own process.
So what if we don’t have to be afraid of God? What if our framework surrounding the fear of God is wrong? What if the way we’ve gotten used to seeing God is wrong?
Think about this in context of relationships with other people.
I have felt like I’m not good enough for a relationship with my wife or kids because of mistakes I’ve made or ways I’ve hurt them in the past, and then I choose to beat myself up and “make amends” by feeling bad. I have felt like I’m not good enough for friendships, and I show up to meet everyone else’s needs and sacrifice all of my own, and I hold myself to an impossible level of perfection that I constantly fail at and then back up into my corner and put up my walls to defend myself.
And what does living in this kind of framework give me? More shame and fear, which drives me deeper into feeling bad or putting up defenses. It’s a vicious cycle. And this plays out in how we approach God too. And all of it feels so far away from the life that Jesus promises all throughout Scripture.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:16-18
And this experience of fuller life, and this concept of knowing God intimately, seems like it requires trust to operate correctly. I must actually trust that what God says is true. And the thing about fear is that it flies right in the face of trust.
How does trust affect a relationship?
How does fear affect a relationship?
If trust is part of relationship, how do I know God and trust Him?
If you google search “how to know God,” you’ll find a lot of similar pages.
And the process of getting to know God is amazing. Jesus is, as we’ve seen in John, “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And reading the Bible is an amazing tool to get to know God. Having the Holy Spirit fill our lives is incredible. Prayer with God can be amazing and connective. Fellowship with other believers has really helped me grow and learn. But what happens if I do all of this because I’m afraid, not because I trust God?
Think about this in terms of a relationship with another person. Here’s a shallow equivalent model for friendship.
Step 1: Tell someone you want to be friends with them.
Step 2: Find out all you can about them on Facebook.
Step 3: Call them on the phone and talk with them.
Step 4: Hang out with them and others in social settings.
Is this friendship? I mean, yes, but also definitely no.
Imagine starting friendship with someone because someone else told you that you should, and that something really bad would happen to you if you weren’t friends with them. You could do all of these steps in fear. And what would your relationship look like? It would be terrible!
And when I think about my marriage, there’s a huge difference between “I’m doing these things so you don’t divorce me” and “I’m doing these things because I want relationship with you.”
This is how some of us approach God. “I’m doing these things so you don’t send me to hell” vs. “I’m doing these things because I want relationship with you.” And I often struggle with this because I feel so disqualified from relationship with God, that it’s near impossible sometimes to allow myself to feel like I’m allowed to pursue that, let alone be okay with wanting it.
So I have to understand why I approach God this way, and there has to be a shift in my baseline beliefs about God, about who He really is and who I really am.
Again. What if the way I see God and myself is wrong?
We have almost forgotten that God is a person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can. It is inherent in personality to be able to know other personalities, but full knowledge of one personality by another cannot be achieved in one encounter. It is only after long and loving mental intercourse that the full possibilities of both can be explored. (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)
Imagine being given a plant or a tree as a gift. What beautiful gift you might think! You could put it on your shelf and look at it every day and be thankful for it and reflect on how beautiful it is and how thoughtful it was for the person who gave it to you to think of you in that way. Yet, in doing all of this, you can still let the plant die. Or maybe you’re afraid of doing it wrong so you just cross your fingers and hope that this plant makes it. But the reality is, if you don’t cultivate it, it doesn’t matter what you think about it or the person who gave it to you or how beautiful it appears or how your memory thinks about it. It doesn’t matter how much you hope for growth. It’s still a plant in need of cultivation: water, good soil, care, trimming, time, sunlight. The same is true for relationships, and especially our relationship with God.
But how can we get there if we’re afraid? Imagine being given this plant and having a deep deep fear of plants. I don’t know how that would happen. But how would you cultivate this plant if you were somehow afraid of it? You might be able to develop some system that works so that the plant could thrive, but would there be any enjoyment in the terror?
How can we walk deeper into cultivating relationship if we’re terrified of it? We can’t. It all hinges on this concept of trust. The question is, is God actually trustworthy? And the hard but good part about that question is everyone has to answer that for themselves. Trust is not something that can be gotten from someone else. It has to be sought out.
Why are we afraid of being fully known in relationships with people and God?
From my experience, God is absolutely trustworthy. And I have had my many many years of pain and fear and trauma and shame and running away from God because of it all. And through all of those years I’ve seen Him stay. He’s been close all along. And He’s chosen kindness toward me.
What if we stopped seeing our sins/shortcomings/failures as roadblocks or things we need to keep hidden from God but rather as catalysts to connection with God? What if we could know He’s trustworthy and not be afraid of Him? What if perfect love actually casts out all fear?
Simply knowing the answers doesn’t help. So how do I get out of the cycle? How do I do relationships without having them be based on merit or works? How do I get to a baseline of truth?
In disc golf (and really in a lot of things) I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can. I have all these discs, and they’re all manufactured to do specific things. To fly specific ways. But I have to throw them correctly in order for them to do what they’re intended to do. So practice is definitely part of the game. Just like practical things in relationship are part of growing and becoming more fully known by God.
But just like beating myself up for not knowing how to throw discs correctly is detrimental to my game, beating myself up for not knowing how to connect with God or being afraid of Him is terribly detrimental. My baseline has to start with seeing me how God sees me and learning and accepting his invitations.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
“The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity.”
“Our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into His plan for us and brings good out of them. This is part of the wonder of His gracious sovereignty.”
(J.I. Packer, Knowing God)
Knowing God is not some process of our getting to know God more by means of cutting pieces of ourselves away. We are created in His image, and though we each struggle with some level of twistedness, everything in us was put there for a reason. God doesn’t call us to cut pieces of ourselves out but to simply bring them to reconciliation under Him. All along He’s made us to connect with Him and everything in us is wired to pursue that. Even the things we’re ashamed of. And He wants continued connection.
I think often about my relationship with my kids. How bad of a parent would I be if I told my kids “Hey I love you guys so much, and I want to have relationship with you, but it will require you to cut pieces of yourself out so I can put pieces of myself in.” That would be the worst. No, as a parent, I get to come alongside my kids and be present in every moment. In every win and in every failure. In every high point and every heartbreak. When my kids are doing well and when they’re not doing so well. I get to be their dad in it all, and I’m not looking for them to be replaced by me. I’m looking for them to become their most full selves and shine fully as people who know who they are and who know their dad is with them and for them, no matter what.
This is the love of God. What I’ve gotten a small small glimpse into as a father, in my own twisted way of doing things, in my own mistakes, is just a fraction of a fraction of a piece of a picture of who God is to us and how He views us. And just as when my kids would think they’ve done something too bad for relationship with me and run away, I would go to them and they would know I’m their dad no matter what, God wants us to understand that we are His no matter what.
What if God truly knows you, and in his knowing truly loves you and desires you? How would that change your view of yourself and your life?
What’s next? What is your next step in the process of letting God get closer, of letting Him in a little bit more, of opening your door just a bit more to Him? Because yes He’s God and He knows everything, but I think He waits patiently for us to invite Him into relational connection with us. And it’s part of a process, not a one-time event that will “fix you” or the thing you finally need to get to the place you “need to be with God.” It’s a connection point in an infinite series of connection points that allows us to know God and be more fully known by Him.
What is one “next step” for you in the process of letting God know you?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read 1 John 4:16-18
How do you respond when you think something is your fault?
How do you respond when you think something is not your fault?
What is the impact of viewing relationships as merit-based?
What are the signs of actually knowing someone in relationship?
What does a sustainable relationship over time with people look like? With God?
How do commitment and trust play a part in relationships?
How have you seen God to be trustworthy?