Getting to Know God
“You have come to know God, or rather . . . you have come to be known by God.”—Gal. 4:9.
1. Is there a difference between knowing God and knowing about him?
MANY persons know about God. They may live in communities where most citizens claim to believe that he exists. But does this mean that they really know God? Well, there is a difference in knowing about the ruler of the country where one lives and in having a personal acquaintance with him. So, too, with knowing God. People who really know God enjoy an actual relationship with him.
2, 3. Why do some persons not believe that God exists?
2 Of course, some persons have no interest in learning anything about God. They do not even believe that he exists. Why? They may be appalled at the hypocrisy carried on by many who claim to believe in him. They may point to the terrible atrocities and wanton bloodshed some have carried on in the name of God and religion. But is it reasonable to deny God’s existence on the basis of what men have done? Would it not be like saying that the ruler of a certain country does not exist because persons falsely claiming to be his loyal subjects have misrepresented him? Would it be reasonable to let other people’s misrepresentations block the development of a relationship that could contribute to one’s lasting happiness and welfare?
3 Still others simply do not want to be accountable to God. They want to set their own standards for living. They may invent arguments in an effort to show that God does not exist. Their arguments often amount to no more than self-deception, as the well-known author Aldous Huxley once confessed: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning, consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.” But a person’s preferring to believe that God does not exist so as to lead a “free” life obviously does not cause God to disappear. He remains, he is.
4. What evidence has convinced most persons that there must be a God?
4 Reasoning on the subject, most persons are moved to admit that there really must be a God. The awesome universe, its beauty and order, the abundance and variety of plant and animal life, man himself—all point to the existence of a masterful Designer, a Creator of life and matter. Based on what they can see, millions of thinking persons throughout the world have also come to appreciate certain qualities of God. They agree with the inspired apostle Paul: “[God’s] invisible qualities are clearly . . . perceived by the things made.”—Rom. 1:20; Acts 14:16, 17.
5. (a) How does the faculty of conscience prove that God exists? (b) What does man’s having the faculty of conscience reveal about God?
5 Man’s faculty of conscience is but one example of this truth. The Bible shows that this faculty, this inward realization or sense of right and wrong, gives evidence of a ‘law written in the heart.’ (Rom. 2:14, 15) Obviously humankind did not get such “law” from the brute animals, as its workings are not in evidence among them. The existence of this internal “law” proves that there must be an intelligent lawmaker—God. Moreover, this faculty reveals the Creator’s wisdom and great concern and love for man. Man’s conscience has served to deter acts that threaten the life, welfare and security of humankind. The faculty of conscience normally condemns the same wrongs at all times and places. Even without any written ‘law code,’ men throughout history have recognized that such things as murder, theft, adultery and sex perversion are wrong. This innate knowledge has given a measure of stability to human society, especially to the family arrangement. (Gen. 34:7; 39:9; Job chapter 31; 2 Pet. 2:6, 7) Truly the faculty of conscience is the gift of an all-wise and loving God.
HOW TO GET TO KNOW GOD
6. Why is recognizing God as a person basic to our getting to know him?
6 But how can we really come to know the invisible God who has revealed himself through his creative works? The first step in this respect is to recognize that he is a person. Only with a person can one enter into an intimate acquaintance or solid relationship. (Heb. 11:6) Often those claiming to believe in a supreme God fail to recognize him as a person. Biographer R. W. Clark asserts of one famous scientist: “Einstein’s God appears as the physical world itself.” But, then, does not the physical world reveal order? And is not order a sign of intelligence? Is not intelligence always associated with personality, with a person? So the one responsible for the order in the universe, God, must be a person.
7. Creation and reason leave what questions unanswered?
7 Reason and observation definitely reveal not only that God is but that he is indeed a person, and that he has admirable qualities. But more than reason based on observation of the physical universe is needed for one to come to know God, enjoying a relationship with him. Why? Because our reasoning on the things we see still leaves many questions about him unanswered. Reason, for instance, may tell us there is a God. But will it tell us why there is wickedness in the world? Reason might imply that a God who is good would not forever tolerate wickedness. But does it tell us when we could expect such conditions to end?
8. What does man need to get in order to know God personally?
8 So, then, what else is needed? Revelation from God himself. An ancient proverb says: “Where there is no vision [or, revelation] the people go unrestrained.” (Prov. 29:18) Yes, without the guidance of divine revelation, many people are inclined to be unbridled in their conduct, especially if they think they can ‘get away with it.’ (Eccl. 8:11) Their imperfect conscience is not enough to restrain them. For our guidance, God has therefore provided revelation in his written Word, the Bible. It reveals to us that his name is Jehovah and relates his dealings, purposes, feelings and attitudes in such a way that we can really get to know him. (Ps. 83:18) The Bible does not leave us in doubt as to what God approves or disapproves.
9. Why can we say that the Bible is from God?
9 But why can we say that the Bible is from God? Because it contains information that simply could not originate with men. Humans cannot predict with unerring accuracy what will happen just a few months from today. The Bible, however, contains many prophecies written long in advance, which have been accurately fulfilled or are in the course of fulfillment. Though written during a period of over sixteen centuries, the Bible is not a book filled with conflicting and shifting philosophies, as would be expected from a work originating with men. Its inner harmony clearly points to a divine origin. The laws and principles the Bible contains are unmatched by anything men have originated as a guide for living. What the Bible says by way of legislation appeals to a good conscience and even assists it in making right decisions. At the same time the Bible reveals the high standards of the Lawmaker, God. Let us consider how one particular part of the Bible, the Law given through the mediator Moses (found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) helps us to know God as a just and merciful Lawmaker. We might do this by comparing that Law with human efforts in making and enforcing laws.
LEARNING ABOUT GOD’S MERCY
10, 11. (a) How have men tried to cope with social evils like theft? (b) How does what the Mosaic law says about theft reveal God to be merciful?
10 The laws of virtually every nation condemn social evils like theft. But when someone does steal—then what? How should the thief be dealt with? For centuries men have grappled, for the most part unsuccessfully, with problems like this. Imperfect human conscience of itself does not fully reveal the answer. In ancient Babylon, the Code of Hammurabi was harsh, commanding, for instance, that a thief caught at a fire should be thrown into the fire. A burglar was to be hanged publicly opposite the breach he made when breaking into the house. Today men and women convicted of theft are usually placed in prisons where, more often than not, they become hardened criminals. Meanwhile, the poor victims must live with their losses.
11 How did God reveal that cases of theft should be handled in the ancient nation of Israel? In a merciful, yet just, manner. We read at Exodus 22:1-4: “In case a man should steal a bull or a sheep and he does slaughter it or sell it, he is to compensate with five of the herd for the bull and four of the flock for the sheep. . . . He is to make compensation without fail . . . If there should be unmistakably found in his hand what was stolen, from bull to ass and to sheep, alive, he is to make double compensation.” Thus, the thief was punished by having to replace what he had stolen, with an added penalty. This served to impress upon him the full effects of his wrong. Then, too, he was required to make certain sacrifices, acknowledging thereby that he had also sinned against God. (Lev. 6:2-7) As for the victim, he had his loss restored. The added penalty imposed on the thief benefited the victim, amply compensating him for the lost use of his property and any problems resulting therefrom.
12. Suppose a thief was unable to make compensation for his theft—then what?
12 But what if the thief was poor and could not make such restitution? He was to be sold to work as a slave or bond servant and thus pay off his debt. (Ex. 22:3) Who can deny that such an arrangement was both just and merciful? The victim did not suffer permanent loss. The thief was not killed; his life was not equated with mere property that he had stolen. Nor was his spirit broken nor his energy sapped by imprisonment. His temporary period of bondage permitted him to rectify the wrong. Surely such a wise and merciful way of handling the matter was from God.
THE LAW REVEALS GOD’S JUSTICE
13. (a) What charge is sometimes leveled against the account at Deuteronomy 21:18-21? (b) How, in reality, does it demonstrate God’s justice?
13 From the Law we also get to know that God’s mercy has limits. Does this mean that the penalties of the Law were at times merciless, cruel? What about the following statement at Deuteronomy 21:18-21?
“In case a man happens to have a son who is stubborn and rebellious, he not listening to the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and they have corrected him but he will not listen to them, his father and his mother must also take hold of him and bring him out to the older men of his city and to the gate of his place, and they must say to the older men of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he is not listening to our voice, being a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city must pelt him with stones, and he must die. So you must clear away what is bad from your midst, and all Israel will hear and indeed become afraid.”
Is this, as some say, an example of extreme cruelty toward children? By no means! Actually, this account clearly shows God’s justice in dealing with those who were incorrigibly wicked and refused to respond to merciful treatment. The “son” in this case was not a young child but was old enough to be a “glutton and a drunkard.” Further, his parents had repeatedly warned him, but he would “not listen to them.” And, very importantly, notice that the son was not put to death until he was brought to trial before “the older men of his city.” This just standard is in stark contrast with what has been practiced in some patriarchal societies. Discussing certain desert tribes in the Middle East, Raphael Patai says:
“In fact, the patriarch’s absolute power over life and death of the members of his family included the right to decide at the time a child was born to him whether to let it live or to condemn it to die. We know from historical documents . . . from pre-Islamic times down to the nineteenth century that often a father decided to put to death a daughter either immediately upon her birth or at a later date. The usual method of putting a newborn daughter to death was to bury her alive in the sands of the desert.”—Family, Love and the Bible, p. 122.
So, among many peoples, family members had no opportunity for getting just treatment when the patriarchal head arbitrarily decided against them. By requiring a trial before the ‘older men of the city,’ the Law, however, protected even an accused family member, permitting him to have a fair hearing. This reveals, not a harsh God, but One of genuine justice. How perfectly his Law balanced mercy and justice!
GETTING TO KNOW GOD THROUGH HIS SON
14. How does the life of Jesus help us to get to know God?
14 As from the Law, so from the rest of the Bible, we can really come to know and appreciate God’s admirable qualities, especially as revealed through his Son Jesus Christ. For countless thousands of years before coming to earth, the Son resided with his Father in the heavens. (John 17:5; Col. 1:13-17) So close was their relationship and so completely in harmony were they that the Son could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (John 14:9; 1:18) During his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ stressed the principles underlying the Mosaic law and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. He lived by those principles and revealed the real spirit of the Law. Through him, God’s admirable qualities can be better appreciated.—Compare, for instance, Matthew 5:21-48; 19:3-9; 23:23.
15, 16. (a) What did Jesus mean when he said one should ‘take in knowledge’ of or “know” the Father and the Son? Illustrate. (b) Why is acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Lord who died for us not all there is to “knowing” him?
15 Getting to know God, then, involves knowing both him and his Son. Jesus Christ pointed this out when saying in prayer to his Father: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of [or, “knowing,” An American Translation] you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Such “knowing” of God and his Son is not just head knowledge, acquired information. It actually means to recognize the authority of God and his Son and to submit to it. By way of illustration, a worker might have a specific job assignment from his manager. However, were he to receive a conflicting assignment from a lesser supervisor, he might say to such one, ‘I know no other manager.’ In saying that he would not mean he did not know the lesser supervisor existed or that he did not know him as a person. Nevertheless, he “knows” or recognizes no manager other than the one under whom he works as having authority over him.
16 Similarly, a person may acknowledge that Jesus Christ exists and that he is the Son of God who sacrificed his life for the world of mankind. But that is not the full extent of “knowing” the Son of God. According to Jesus’ own words, he has been given “authority over all flesh.” (John 17:2) So the person who really knows Jesus Christ as having such authority shows this by obeying his commands. (John 14:15; 15:10) As the apostle John called to the attention of fellow believers: “By this we have the knowledge that we have come to know him, namely, if we continue observing his commandments. He that says: ‘I have come to know him,’ and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person.” (1 John 2:3, 4) Since Jesus’ commands actually originated with his Father, knowing or recognizing the Son as one deserving of obedience also means knowing or recognizing the Father as being one deserving of full submission.—John 7:16-18; 14:10.
BEING KNOWN BY GOD AND CHRIST
17. How does the case of Abraham show what is meant by being known by God?
17 By coming to know God as a person and recognizing his authority, we also come to be known by him. That was the case with the faithful man Abraham. Jehovah God said that he ‘knew’ Abraham, not meaning that he was merely aware of Abraham’s existence but that he had become well acquainted with him. The Almighty had observed Abraham’s obedience and interest in true worship for many years and, as a result, came to know him as a man of faith who would instruct his offspring correctly. (Gen. 18:19; 22:12) Furthermore, God knew or recognized Abraham as his approved servant, his friend.—Jas. 2:23.
18, 19. What shows that factual knowledge of the Bible and acknowledging Jesus Christ as the one who died for the sins of mankind are not enough for one to be recognized as an approved servant of God and Christ?
18 Gaining God’s recognition as Abraham did is not based on mere factual knowledge of the Bible. There are people who can answer questions about the Bible and, in some cases, even know it in its original languages. They may also acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord who died for them. But if they are not proving themselves to be obedient servants, neither Jehovah God nor Jesus Christ will recognize such persons as belonging to them. (2 Tim. 2:19; Titus 1:16) Jesus Christ gave this warning: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:21-23.
19 Obviously Jesus Christ would have to be acquainted with these persons whom he rejects. Otherwise he could not speak of them as “workers of lawlessness.” However, he does not know or recognize them as having any approved relationship with him; he does not know them as his authorized representatives. It is vital for us, therefore, to make sure that we are conducting ourselves in a way that is in harmony with God’s personality, ways and dealings so as to be recognized as approved by him and by his Son. (Gal. 4:9) Only if that is the case can we hope to escape the destruction of all who disregard the commands of Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, refusing to know or recognize their authority.—2 Thess. 1:6-9.
20. If a person is known by God, what evidence can he point to that his relationship is a personal one?
20 One who is known or recognized by God enjoys a personal relationship with his Creator. In his own life, he experiences God’s direction and help. When a serious situation comes up in life, one requiring a major decision, the person who really knows Jehovah as the all-wise, all-powerful God will not lean on his own understanding. (Prov. 3:5, 6) He will approach Jehovah God in prayer, asking for his help and guidance. By means of his spirit, Jehovah will bring back to the person’s mind appropriate principles from his Word and aid him to make the correct application. (Compare John 14:26.) Whatever the trialsome circumstances or problems may be, the individual will time and again find the following words of the disciple James to apply in his case: “If any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.”—Jas. 1:5.
21. What results from knowing God and continuing to follow a course that he approves?
21 As we continue to act in harmony with godly wisdom as revealed to us in God’s Word and in answer to our prayers, what will result? By means of his spirit, Jehovah God will continue to help us to make advancement in developing a godly personality. The “force” or driving element that is ‘actuating our minds’ will move us to conform ever closer to God’s righteous standards. (Eph. 4:20-24) God’s commands will not just be words printed in a book. Rather, they will be a part of our very being, impressed upon our mind and heart. We will know what they mean and appreciate their exceedingly high value from having experienced the benefits that come from obeying them. (Ps. 119:1-16, 74-77, 164-168) We will, as the apostle Paul states, be able to ‘prove to ourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’—Rom. 12:2.
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A thief who stole a bull and sold it had to compensate with five bulls
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God’s law to Israel showed that his mercy has limits. A rebellious son who refused to heed the merciful correction of his parents was brought before “the older men of the city” for trial