I aim for this post to be introductory of a series on the widely ignored (but marvelously significant!) biblical theme of being “known by God.” Christians often talk much about our knowing of God, and rightly so (Jeremiah 9:23-24, John 17:3, Philippians 3:10, II Timothy 1:12, etc.). But to move theologically from the active voice to the passive; to contend that in Christ we not only come to know God for ourselves, but furthermore that we come to be known by God in a unique way—well, such modes of thinking are (if we are honest with ourselves) utterly foreign to most of us.
So I begin merely by highlighting a disturbing reality: the surprisingly counter-intuitive shouts coming from the biblical narrative which inform us that we are wondrously known by God Himself tend to fall on deaf ears–in large part simply because of our unconscious, habitual neglect. Oh for eyes to see and for ears to hear! I encourage you to begin by pondering these passages (and many more will be adduced in the coming days):
Exodus 33:12-13—“Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
Psalm 1:5-6—“Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Jeremiah 1:5—“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Hosea 13:4-6—“But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.”
Amos 3:2—”Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.’”
Matthew 7:21-23—“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
I Corinthians 8:1-3—“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
I Corinthians 13:8-13—“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope and love abide; but the greatest of these is love.”
Galatians 4:8-11—“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”
Here are the three essential questions I want to tackle in forthcoming posts as we digest the import of such passages: 1.) What does it mean to be “known by God”? Virtually all Christians throughout history have affirmed that God has exhaustive, perfect knowledge of the world and all that is in it—and yet there are denials in several portions of Scripture that God does not know certain people, even as there are claims that He knows certain others in a special way. How could this be? 2.) How does the motif of being “known by God” function in Scripture? Here we ask not what this reality is, but rather what it does. Finally: 3.) What are some implications for the church and the world around us that those who belong to Jesus are ushered into a fresh, spectacular reality of being acknowledged—literally, taken notice of personally—by the Creator of all things? Along the way, I’ll also introduce into the discussion the insights and contributions of Christian theologians who have mused deeply on what it means to be “known by God” such as C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Brian Rosner. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.