Our Knowledge of God's Knowledge of Us: Overcoming an Obstacle to Intimacy
One of the greatest obstacles to experiencing intimacy with God is our knowledge of God’s knowledge of us. That may sound strange, so I suggest you read it again.
Let me explain by asking a question. Why do you hesitate to draw near to God? Why do you and I strive to keep God at arm’s length, especially after we’ve sinned? There are, to be sure, many reasons and thus a variety of ways of answering the question. But let me suggest one that I have found to be most prevalent among Christians, one that has certainly been true, at times, of my own experience.
I think we run from God rather than to him because we know our own hearts all too well and his barely at all. Here’s what I mean by that. Each of us is painfully aware of the depth of our sin and depravity. We are daily in agonizing touch with our weakness and how prone we are to repeat those sins for which we have just repented and sought forgiveness. The presence of ingratitude and presumption in our relationship with God is all too real and convicting.
In other words, the inescapable and undeniable knowledge that we have of ourselves is a persistent roadblock to the pursuit of intimacy with God. The contempt and disdain in which we hold ourselves makes it ever so difficult to seek out an infinitely holy and righteous God.
I’ve often spoken with sincere Christian men and women who are convinced that God is disgusted with them. After all, why shouldn’t he be (so they contend), given the fact that they are so deeply disgusted with themselves? They live daily with the paralyzing conviction that God is so utterly repulsed by them that all hope of a meaningful relationship is shattered.
If you’ll stop and think about it, you’ll realize how this affects the way we relate to other people. Convinced that if they knew the truth about us they would be repulsed, we work to hide our true selves from sight. We live in fear that if they knew us for who and what we know ourselves to be, they’d turn and run, ending all hope of friendship or intimacy. So we create a relational style that will keep people at a safe distance from our souls. We adopt personality traits that will mask the true self and, we hope, convince others that we aren’t that bad or ugly after all.
Here’s my point. If we react that way to people whose knowledge of us is limited, imagine how we react to God whose knowledge of us is infinite! Biblical texts such as Psalm 139:1-4 and Hebrews 4:12-14 are frightening, rather than affirming, to many people. God’s omniscience, according to the way they think, ends all hope for intimacy. “How could God stand to be in my presence, knowing me as he does? He is holy and I’m unholy. He is righteous and I am a sinner. He is faithful and I am fickle.” End of story. End of hope.
We might be able to fool some people some of the time, but we can never fool God at any time. His knowledge of us is perfect and penetrating and pervasive. He sees every motive, he knows every impulse, he is privy to every thought before it enters our heads. People then draw this conclusion: If I am disgusting to myself, how much more must I be disgusting to God.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not suggesting for a moment that God isn’t displeased with our sin. King David couldn’t have been more clear when he said of God, “For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with Thee. The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity” (Psalm 4:4-5; NASB). This being the case, is all hope shattered of comfort and joy in God’s presence? How can I draw near to a God whose purity would seem to drive me away?
Clearly, our knowledge of God’s knowledge of us appears to be an imposing obstacle. As I said at the beginning, our problem is that we know our own hearts all too well and his barely at all. That was certainly true of me, until I came across something in Psalm 103.
Psalm 103 is an amazing chapter in the Bible. Virtually nothing can rival its glorious declarations of God’s saving and forgiving love for his people. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v. 8; ESV). Wow!
But it gets better. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (v. 10). Double wow! This latter point isn’t because God doesn’t repay or punish people in accordance with their iniquities and sins. Rather, he doesn’t deal with us according to our sins because he has dealt with his Son according to what our sins deserve. He doesn’t reward us according to our iniquities because the Son “was crushed for our iniquities . . . [for] the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6).
Then follow in Psalm 103 several declarations of God’s compassion and kindness: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (vv. 11-13).
All well and good, you say. But doesn’t God’s knowledge of me shatter whatever hope I might have had that this could ever be my experience? No. For the next thing we read in Psalm 103:14 is this: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
Don’t miss the connection between v. 14 and all that has preceded in vv. 8-13. God loves us and has compassion on us and forgives us FOR, or BECAUSE he knows us! His knowledge of us doesn’t repel him. His knowledge of us doesn’t forever terminate his blessings. His knowledge of us is, in some sense, the reason or explanation why he chooses to be loving and forgiving and compassionate!
This is divine logic, because it certainly isn’t human! It’s not how you and I would reason. Our tendency would be to say, “It’s because he knows that I’m dust, that my frame is fickle and weak and prone to wander, that he will have nothing to do with me.” David says, “No, no! It’s PRECISELY BECAUSE he knows what you are made of and how you function and what you think and feel and how often you fail that he chooses, in sovereign grace and mercy, to shower you with a compassion and kindness and saving love that you could never hope to earn or merit on your own.”
Your knowledge of God’s knowledge of you is not a good reason to run from him when you sin, rather than to him. God’s infinite and incisive and perfect knowledge of every fiber of your frame was no obstacle to his saving intentions. It was precisely because he knew and knows you in such exhaustive detail that he determined to send his Son to endure in your place the wrath and indignation that your frame and choices and rebellious ways so richly deserved.
This done, God sees you in his Son, clothed in his righteousness. He sees in you the work of his grace and the fear and awe and reverence in which you hold him. Knowing full well what you and I are in ourselves, he has compassion on us as a father on his children. Indeed, he sings over us in joyful and jubilant celebration, with deep and passionate affection (Zephaniah 3:17).
So, no matter how well we know our own hearts, if we would but know God’s, all fear and hesitation would disappear. We would find him full of compassion and kindness and ready to receive us no matter how often or egregious our “dust” may lead us into sin, no matter how weak and fickle our “frame” may be. He is an ever-flowing, never-ending fountain of forgiveness to those who, in repentance and faith, seek him for refuge and safety.