Psalm 71:17-18 headlines my website, introducing my heritage and my hope: a multi-generational calling to proclaim the wonders of God. This heritage-hope brings my dad, mom, and Dr. J.I. Packer to mind. All three of these have now “fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). Dad (after 50+ years of missionary/ministry life) died Christmas Day, 2005; Mom (with a lifelong valiant faith as her legacy) passed eleven months later; and Dr. Packer (author of Knowing God), died just a few weeks ago. Each was a spiritual sequoia; a towering and enduring testimony of heavenward faith, planted and rooted in eternal-life soil: the knowledge of God (John 17:3).
When I was 16 (1975), I noticed Mom reading Knowing God (KG). In 1977, my parents gave a copy to my grandmother; which, upon Grandma’s passing, returned to Dad’s possession; which upon his death became mine (complete with Dad’s scribbled marginalized comments). One copy. Three generations. That’s called heritage.
Inspired by Mom, I read KG when I was 17; and have now read the book, in whole or in part, more times than I can remember. I wish it was required reading for everyone. By my reckoning, we have too much pastoring, preaching, posturing, pontificating, politicking, protesting, and push-back protesting going on by people whose view of themselves, their ministry, their opinions, and their cause, is far grander than their view of God. We have forgotten—or have failed ever to see at all—what Dr. Packer writes early in KG: that only those who know their God will be able to “stand firm and take action” (Daniel 11:32) or “do exploits” (KJV) (KG, Chapter 2). Without a sharp ever-renewed focus on the being, grandeur, gospel, and holy love of God, faith inevitably will fail; taking all our human efforts down with it. Standing firm in doing anything worth doing requires that we know the One for whom we are doing it.
Dr. Packer and I wouldn’t have always agreed (I don’t agree 100% even with me!), but I celebrate KG as the most impactful human-authored book I’ve ever read. To pique your interest, here are some Packerian tweetables (from his 1993 Americanized edition):
- “[S]o we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it” (19).
- “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God” (23).
- “A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him” (26).
- “We do not make friends with God; God makes friends with us, bringing us to know him by making his love known to us” (41).
- “There is tremendous relief in knowing His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself…” (42).
- “We were made in his image, but we must not think of him as existing in ours” (47).
- “Like us, he is personal. Unlike us, he is great” (83).
- “Living becomes an awesome business when you realize that you spend every moment of your life in the sight and company of an omniscient, omnipresent Creator” (86).
- “The world dwarfs us all, but God dwarfs the world” (87).
- “Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world, and our lives in it, as they really are” (103).
- “To know God’s love is indeed heaven on earth” (117).
- “‘Father’ is the Christian name for God” (201).
- “Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true” (228).
Knowing God is a life-essential. As I’ve written elsewhere: “Nothing so restores the ruined, so strengthens the weak, so comforts the sorrowful, so lifts the fallen, so sustains the infirmed, so raises the downcast, so binds up the broken, so heals the wounded, so satisfies the hungry, [and] so dignifies the oppressed…as does a steady, everyday, life-long gaze of the soul upon the being and beauty of God…” (Timothy Shorey, 30/30 Hindsight: 30 Reflections on a 30-Year Headache, p23).
We will never thrive amidst global pandemics, or pursue the rigors of sanctification, or herald a world-offending gospel, or outlast ministry hardships, or persevere in vertical, horizontal, and internal righteousness, or stand firm in spiritual warfare, or participate in any truly just cause in a consistently just way, or walk the long path before us with steadfast rejoicing hope, or simply adore our Maker, unless we know God as he is, rather than as we imagine or vaguely envision him to be.
Since we must know God (something beyond mere knowing about God), might Dr. Packer’s Knowing God be a worthy next read for us (after our Bible-reading)? And why not give a copy to our children and to their children, too? Let’s reforest the earth with sequoia saplings—coming generations who will stand firm and take action long after our own turn to fall asleep has come and gone; as soon it will.
Feel free to comment and/or add KG quotes!
These are very insightful quotes from authors I grew up with virtually no knowledge of. Raised in the black Church, virtually every author or early Church reformer and figures from the great awakening was absent from our study of scripture. Just about everything was from those figures from scripture. There was almost never an explicit reference to a theologian. Nonetheless, much of what is affirmed in these writings echoes what was taught.
I think more of us are being exposed to teachers and preachers outside of our cultural traditions, which is good–so long as they have a high view of Scripture, a passion for the gospel of grace and faith alone, and a deep love for Christ! I thank God for voices I’m hearing now that I never heard before! As for the black church, I think it was Carl Ellis who I heard say that there has always been rich and sound theology in the black church expressed in its spirituals and in its common conversations and familiar liturgical expressions. Jesus has a way of teaching us all through his Spirit and the Word!
Dr Packer’s Knowing God has ministered to me over the years in profound and mind-changing ways. No question it is my favorite book about the God and His Word.