289 million. That’s a lot. But that’s what I got when I put in this question to Google, “How do you know God” That means lots of folks have lots of answers to that question. But is it really that hard to know God? Yes and No.
And in the words you’re about to hear, you’ll find out why knowing God can be both surprisingly easy, and at the same time, not all that easy at all.
Why is knowing God both surprisingly easy, yet at the same time not easy at all? Well, first, If you get almost 300 million results to the question, how do you know which answer is the closest? Now if you put anything into Google, you get a bunch of results. If you want to know how to make lemonade, you’ll get 28 million But still, this question of knowing God generates 10 times more than that. And if you simply put the word God in, forget about it. That gets you 1.8 billion!
So how do you really know God? In these few short sentences, God tells you what knowledge of God has to look like. Put simply, God tells you. If you really want to know me, you have to know me both ways. Only when you do that, will you really be on the road to knowing me.
What do I mean by both ways? Well, you see both ways in the words we just read. How does John start out? He starts out by talking about how he and the apostles know Jesus. But how does he do that? He gives you objective realities. We heard Jesus. We saw him. We even touched him.
Only then does John talk about having communion with God, about knowing God at a subjective level.
Now, why does the letter start out that way? Because in these words of John, God is giving you a crucial insight on what you need, to know God. To know God, you have to know God both ways. You have to know God as both an objective reality, and as a subjective experience.
You see. In the end, human beings don’t change too much. And all through human history, when people want to grasp what the world means, what ultimate reality is, they go in one of two directions. In one direction, they decide that what the world means can only be what I touch, see and feel. If I can’t measure it, then it can’t exist. They become in the word of the philosophers, materialists. If it ain’t material, then it ain’t anything basically. But in the other direction, folks decide that you can only grasp what the world means, what ultimate reality is, through some sort of subjective experience. It’s what you feel that matters. Who cares if you can’t measure it? It doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, that stuff is more real than anything. In John’s day, these folks called themselves Gnostics, from the Greek word for knowledge. They were always looking for some sort of esoteric experience to discover God, one that would give them that special knowledge of God and everything. Today you might call them New Agey.
But to be honest lots of religions move towards this way of seeing the world, but not Christianity. Christianity actually says that you have to see the world both ways. And that means, you have to know God both ways too.
Christians believe in a God who actually became a real human being, a human being whose life and death, and yes, even resurrection can be verified. Christians believe in a God who came as someone you could actually see and touch, who is a verified fact in history. That’s why Christian researchers do archeological digs to learn more about Jesus and the early followers. For Christians, the material matters. As important as subjective experience is, you can’t just know God only that way.
A few weeks ago, I was in the car with my 3 year old son, Patrick, and we were talking about Jesus. And Patrick just spontaneously said as he sometimes does. I love Jesus. I said I love Jesus too. Then, Patrick asked. He’s make-believe? You see, Patrick loves Lightning McQueen, from the Disney movies, but he’s beginning to figure out that Lightning might not be real. So, he was asking, is Jesus that way too. And I replied, No, Jesus is real. And that kind of blew Patrick away. And it kind of blew me away too. What that meant hit me all over again. Yes, Jesus is real. God became a human being, who walked actual roads in actual places that you can still visit to this day.
For Christians the material matters. That’s why Christians study science, and even fund it. Do you realize that the Vatican has an observatory? In fact, it has had one for a hundred and twenty five years. And I’m not talking some little rinky dink think so the Pope can look at the stars. No, the current director of this Observatory, has a Ph.D in Planetary Science. He received the Carl Sagan Award from his fellow astronomers. And he’s also a Jesuit brother. Think about that. The Pope spends serious money each year on scientific research.
Because the material matters, Christians do all sorts of things to alleviate human suffering from starting hospitals (in fact Christians invented them) to hunger and disaster relief. And it’s why John starts out his letter by talking about the God that he actually saw and heard and touched. But just knowing that cannot be enough. Knowledge cannot stop there.
Many years ago, I remember attending a church service on Easter with my family. And let’s just say that the preacher’s message that day left us underwhelmed. As we drove away, my sister nailed what bothered us. She said, “It was like he was talking about flying, but he had never flown before.” Sure he knew about flight. He could tell you how it all worked. But at least the way he preached that day, you would never have thought he had experienced it.
That’s why John moves in these sentences from talking about knowing the facts of Jesus to actually knowing Jesus, to as he puts it, to having fellowship with the Father and the Son.
It’s like the difference between saber and conocer in Spanish. You see, Spanish doesn’t just have one word for “know.” It has two. One, saber, means you know the facts. For example, if I use saber and I say, I know Donald Trump, that would be true. I know who Donald Trump is. But if I used conocer, and said I know Donald Trump. That means something quite different. That would mean I’ve been hanging out with the President at Mar a Lago, that I know Donald Trump.
And when it comes to Jesus, you can’t just saber know Jesus. You’ve got to conocer know Jesus. But how do you know that? I mean, how do you know that you really know Jesus like that, not just as a fact, but as a friend.
Two things will tell you. First, do you yearn for everyone to know God like you do? Does it make you sad that others do not have this relationship in their life? Do you feel a desire to share the love that Jesus has shown you with others?
Do you know the magician duo, Penn and Teller? Beyond being incredible entertainers and illusionists, the vocal one of the duo, Penn Gillette, has become a well-known atheist. Yet something happened to Penn that he found so compelling, he shared the experience on a video on the internet.
After one of his shows in Vegas, Penn had gone out to greet the crowd as he often does, and he noticed this guy just hanging back and waiting for him. After the crowd had moved away, the man stepped up and sincerely shared how much he liked the show. Then he said, “I brought this for you” and he pulled out a Gideon pocket edition New Testament. As he looked Penn intently in the eye, he told Penn, “I wrote in the front of this, and I wanted you to have it. I’m kind-of proselytizing. I’m a businessman. I’m sane not crazy.” And Penn as he reminisced about it on the video said with real emotion in his voice simply three words. “It was wonderful.” He talked about how the man had written not only a note, but 5 contact numbers and an e-mail if Penn wanted to get in touch. And Penn went on to talk about how it bothered him how folks who professed belief often didn’t share it, because they felt it might be socially awkward. And then he said words I don’t think I’ll ever forget, “How much do you have to HATE somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Now we all know folks who have mishandled sharing the Good News of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean you don’t share it. And if you don’t have any desire to do that, even if the prospect of it intimidates you, then you need to ask yourself. How well do I really know Jesus?
And secondly, beyond this desire, if you know Jesus, you will discover that your experience of him transcends culture and time. What do I mean? Do you remember that prayer we prayed about half an hour ago? It went like this:
“Come, O Christ, our Light and illumine our darkness. Come our Life, and revive us from death. Come, Our Physician, and heal our wounds. Come Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of our sins, kindling our hearts with the flame of your love…”
Did those words resonate with you? Has Jesus ever brought you light in your darkness or healed a wound? Have you ever felt your heart kindled by the flame of his love?” But get this. That prayer comes from an Orthodox monk who lived almost 400 years ago in Czarist Russia. What do you have in common with someone like that? Simple. You have a mutual friend. The same Jesus saved you both. And that sort of knowledge, it transcends every culture and every time.
When you know Jesus like that, not just as a fact in history, but as your faithful friend, it changes you forever. When you know Jesus, not simply as a story in a book, but as the one who has rewritten your story, it moves you like nothing else. Then you know what John means when he talks of the fellowship of the Father and the Son, because you have become part of it. And like John, it has brought you a joy, a joy that sustains you, even on your worst days.
Do you know Jesus like that? If you don’t, do you want to? All you need to do is ask.