Many young Americans and Europeans today have given up on religion—they treat God as unappealing and unnecessary. Others retain a “sort of” God. For them God is a spiritual fashion accessory. Still others treat God as a “what if”: what if there really is a God, a heaven, and a hell? “Have we done enough religious stuff lately to keep up our ‘hellfire’ insurance premiums?”
But the problem with all these options is that when they arrive in his presence the God who really does exist will say to them, “You can leave now since I don’t know you” (Mt. 7:23). And that’s the real issue: to know God is to be transformed by him. He changes us in every way possible once we actually meet him.
This raises some important questions. Is God unfairly selective in making himself available: is it hard to get to know him? And what happens when we meet him? Is the promised transformation noticeable? Painful? Disruptive? Enjoyable? And what is it that he wants from us anyway?
The quick answer to such questions is, “read the Bible.” The point of Scriptures is to introduce God—what he says about himself. Letters or long emails offer an analogy here: once we meet someone we like while living in different towns we get to build a stronger connection by writing. Yet we still anticipate our face-to-face contacts. In God’s case the face-to-face needs to wait awhile, but in view of eternity the delay won’t seem like much. The Bible at least gets us started.
Notice that I’m not suggesting that to know God we should survey of all the religious literatures of the world. Start with the Bible and you won’t need other options: we find that he’s there and waiting for us.
The problem with meeting and knowing God is that before our first encounter we already have a god or a goddess who satisfies us and who refuses to be displaced. That’s a big problem because the true God refuses to put up with alternate gods in any form or fashion. A tangible example is offered in 1 Samuel 5 where the Philistines captured God’s ark—a golden box that served as his earthly meeting place with Israel at the time—and put it in the temple of their own imagined God, Dagon. Before the story ends the carved image of Dagon had fallen face down with its head and hands broken off.
So God rejects any sort of competition; and that makes sense if he alone is the true God. All others are pretenders being led on by the fantasies of a rogue angel. Imagine, for instance, having a houseguest who hates you, wants to displace you, and will do anything, even murder, to have his own way whenever you’re both at home. God, of course, says no. That just won’t be allowed to last in his home, the created universe.
Just who are the alternative gods and goddesses of those who don’t know God? It’s the person they look at in the mirror. The ultimate problem of sin is self—the ambition to take on the role of God for ourselves. And God says, no. That cannot and will not last. But he also gives us time to try the role of God before he finally confronts us.
The Bible, in a nutshell, tells us that God has loved the world. He created us for good. We learn in the Bible that God, as an eternal relational being—what we now call the Trinity—and of whom it is said “God is love”, invites all who respond to his words into that love (John 17). But most people love the darkness of self-love rather than the light found in a love for God’s Son, Jesus.
Is that unfair? Hardly. It seems that almost all who respond to God’s words in the Bible are those who have done poorly in trying to be godlike: “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised . . . so that no one might boast in God’s presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
To know God, then, is simply to say, “I give up on playing god: will you please be my God?” And then give him all the devotion you once invested in your own ambitions. You’ll love it. That is, you’ll love him.
In sum: to know him is to love him. Enjoy!