Friday, August 17, 2012

Knowing only God

I'm thinking more about the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote (from Ethics) in my last post to the effect that we can know God only if we know only God.  This is consistently one of the most challenging statements in my own faith.

We are taught from our very beginnings that we need to know the world directly.  As we grow we are taught to know right from wrong, good from evil.  Everything in our upbringing militates against knowing only God.

So if, at an older age (anything over about 3) we want to follow Jesus with our whole lives, we are in a quandary.  We hear his call to come and follow.  We read the stories of the first disciples who left their nets and we agonize with them through the stories of trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. Peter especially is a great role model in this because he so often gets it wrong, just like we do.

As we begin to mature in this business of following Jesus -- as we become more and more wholehearted in our dedication to him, acknowledging him as master and lord of all our lives -- we recognize the temptation to be sucked back into focus on the things of this world.  Over and over in his teachings Jesus exposes this for what it is.  Think, for example, of his parable of the sower, sometimes called the parable of the soils.  One of the soils that doesn't allow the seed to produce fruit is the seed that is already crowded with thorns.  Jesus describes these thorns as the cares, the pleasures, and the riches of this life.

Lately I've been noticing how full our world is of cares, pleasures, and riches that distract us from Jesus.  If Bonhoeffer is right -- that we can know God only if we know only God -- this business of thorns has to be one of Satan's best strategies.  Whether it's worrying about my kids, enjoying the mindless entertainment of a sitcom, or getting embroiled in managing my resources, my mind is not on the things of Jesus.

When I know Jesus and him alone, I find myself first of all called away from all these things.  I'm called to let go of my worries about my children.  I'm called to step back from the world's entertainment.  I'm called to open my hands and not worry about either lack of finances or management of them.  This temporary hiatus, this temporary withdrawal feels a lot like irresponsibility.

But very quickly, knowing only Jesus calls me back to these relationships.  I'm called back to the relationships but my presence and my perspective has been transformed.  Instead of worrying about my children, I spend my time and energy praying for them and pondering how God is growing them and calling them into the world.  Instead of checking out in front of the tube, I see television programming with a heart that breaks for the brokenness of the world, that cringes at the cheap, shallow laughs that allow people to live in denial about their real needs.  Instead of worrying about my finances, I'm called back to my resources in the confidence that my heavenly Father knows all my needs and calls me to live generously, with open hands toward a needy world.

I begin to see Jesus present in every situation.  The life of knowing only God is NOT a life of monastic withdrawal from reality, but a life of single-minded engagement with the world because that is where I find God at work.

Knowing only God also takes away my need to weigh every option and every decision.  My only priority is to know God.  He handles the big issues, and I live in a relationship of trust, focused on him.

As you think about this kind of life, what attracts you?  What scares you?  To what extent have you experienced this single-mindedness in knowing only God?


  1. "my only priority is to know God. He handles the big issues and I live in a relationship of trust, focused on Him"

    Amen Pastor Jeff, well said.