The events of this day eventually brought the following paragraphs to my mind. Knowing God by J. I. Packer was the first “serious” Christian book I read after my conversion to Christianity, and I’ve turned back to it for help, advice, and inspiration time and again through the past couple decades. These paragraphs are from chapter 2, “The People who Know their God.”
I walked in the sunshine with a scholar who had effectively forfeited his prospects of academic advancement by clashing with church dignitaries over the gospel of grace. ‘But it doesn’t matter,’ he said at length, ‘for I’ve known God and they haven’t.’ The remark was a mere parenthesis, a passing comment on something I had said, but it has stuck with me, and set me thinking.
Not many of us, I think, would ever naturally say that we have known God. The words imply a definiteness and matter-of-factness of experience to which most of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we are still strangers. We claim, perhaps, to have a testimony, and can rattle off our conversion story with the best of them; we say that we know God — this, after all, is what evangelicals are expected to say; but would it occur to us to say, without hesitation, and with reference to particular events in our personal history, that we have known God? I doubt it, for I suspect that with most of us experience of God has never become so vivid as that.
Nor, I think, would many of us ever naturally say that in the light of the knowledge of God which we have come to enjoy past disappointments and present heartbreaks, as the world counts heartbreaks, don’t matter. For the plain fact is that to most of us they do matter. We live with them as our ‘crosses’ (so we call them). Constantly we find ourselves slipping into bitterness and apathy and gloom as we reflect on them, which we frequently do. The attitude we show to the world is a sort of dried-up stoicism, miles removed from the ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ which Peter took for granted that his readers were displaying (1 Peter 1:8). ‘Poor souls,’ our friends say of us, ‘how they’ve suffered — and that is just what we feel about ourselves! But these private mock heroics have no place at all in the minds of those who really know God. They never brood on might-have-beens; they never think of the things they have missed, only of what they have gained. ‘What things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ,’ wrote Paul. ‘Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him . . . that I may know him . . .’ (Philippians 3:7-10). When Paul says he counts the things he lost ‘dung’, he means not merely that he does not think of them as having any value, but also that he does not live with them constantly in his mind: what normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure? Yet this, in effect, is what many of us do. It shows how little we have in the way of true knowledge of God.
So, trying to forget about the ‘dung’ in life, and working on ‘gaining Christ.’