Knowing God is an interesting subject. So is knowing about God. But the two are clearly not the same. My guess is that a large majority of people who claim to know God would, on careful consideration, be found to know about God, but not to know God to any significant degree. And probably a large majority of self-identified Christians would say they do not "know" God. They would likely be correct.
Knowing about someone is easy. I know about many people whom I have never met. Abraham and Paul from the Bible, for example. George Washington and many others in American history. Others in world history. Probably, you do too. After all, it's simply a matter of research and observation, of gathering information. Any competent journalist can attest to the ease of writing a fairly detailed article about someone - giving the appearance of knowing the person well - while never having met the person. Collecting data.
But knowing someone is a different matter. That requires more than research and information. It's about personal interaction and time significant together. Knowing someone is far less easy, and that's especially true of knowing God.
So how do we come to truly know God? And do we know that we know God? On such an important matter, we don't want to fool ourselves, believing something that's a product of our own imagination. A God whom we define is no God at all. But though it's not easy, neither is it complicated.
I struggled with this issue for years. I want to know God, but how? And how do I know if I really know Him? Is there a link between knowing Him and being "spiritually mature"?
Here's what I have concluded.
How do we know God? Well, let's think about relationships in general. How do I come to know anyone? Not a moment of revelation, certainly. It's a process, not an event. In parts of Texas, they don't talk of having known someone for years, but rather, of having been knowing someone. "I've been knowing Joe for twenty years." A process.
So how to I come to know another person? My wife, or a friend? It's fairly straightforward, right? By choosing to spend significant time together. Doing things, talking, each being a part of the life of the other, shaping a "together life." But notice, it doesn't happen by accident. There is an element of intentionality: We choose to know and be known by another person
It's really that simple, of course. If I want to know someone, I have to spend time with that person. Not just passing time, but interacting, "being there" to each other. Knowing is a process that comes with living life together. And it works more effectively when that living includes hard times together.
Knowing God is no different. God is a person, and reveals himself to us so that we can know Him much like any other person. So how do we live life together with God? A couple thoughts come to mind.
First, read the Bible. Read it often. The Bible is our primary source of revelation from God, and the measure by which we can evaluate the validity of everything else. But don't simply read for information, collecting data. Read for personality and character. What do the stories say about this person we call God? What do his own words say about Him? Who is He?
As we "read between the lines," we can get an idea of the person the stories reveal to us. We get something from the text itself, but we add to that by looking behind the text. What does the text imply, and what does it assume?
Then, like any other relationship, we have to spend time together, talking and doing things. There is no substitute for shared time. Talk, talk, talk. Talk with God about anything and everything that pops into your mind. And, now and then, stop to let Him talk. It's only polite, you know.
As you spend time carefully reading and talking, the relationship will grow, and over time you will come to know God more and more.
But how do we know if we really know Him? How do we know we aren't focused on something out of our own imagination? I think it's again much like other relationships. How do husbands and wives know that they know each other? There are a couple interesting things that we might consider.
First, people in a good marriage begin to act like each other. They take on the characteristics of their partner. They begin to understand how their partner thinks. Over time, each can often predict what the other will do in many situations.
But what about God? No different. As we spend time with God, we begin to take on his characteristics: We start to act like Him. We become, some might say, a "chip off the old block." And over time, we come to know Him well enough that we can actually predict how He might act in a given situation. We know his voice.
We can know God. That's clear from the Bible. We cannot know Him totally, knowing Him as well as He can be known. But we can certainly know Him well, with a relationship of intimacy and enjoyment. And that's the longing of his heart.