My daughter has gone the first nineteen months of her life without calling me anything close to "daddy." She's been able to say "dada" for a long time, but it's always been clear that term refers to diapers instead of me. Until about a month ago, I was just "Uh." We would play the game around the table at meals: point to my wife, and she would say her name; point to my son, and she would say his name; point to me... "Uh."
I guess I bugged her about it enough that around a month ago, she decided to give me a name, though it certainly isn't one I would've chosen for myself. Now I am "gaga." I really hope this is temporary. I'm extremely uninformed when it comes to pop culture, but from the tiny bit I know of my namesake, I'll be really glad whenever the first time comes that my little girl looks at me and uses any of the more traditional affectionate names for her dad.
Thankfully she's young enough that this doesn't bother me, but only gives me something to joke about. It does really matter to me, however, that even though I know her so well at this point in her young life, that as she grows, she'll also know me better along with time. An important step in that process of her growing to know me will be the day when she realizes, "Hey, I bet this guy would like being called daddy more than gaga." But right now–at nineteen months–she's still pretty limited in her capacity to know me, so I'll continue to delight in every "gaga" she says when she looks at me.
I've come to believe that knowing God isn't as clear-cut of a thing as we've often made it out to be. I do believe it's possible, and that it is meant for every person, but after having studied the process of spiritual formation for quite a while now, I really don't think that it's as simple as you may have heard it described–at least not for me nor for most of us. It's likely that at some point you, like me, have heard a preacher or some other well-meaning person say that we need to have "an intimate personal relationship with Jesus" and then give a description of how that comes about, which sounds something like meeting a stranger on the street who already knows everything about us and instantly becoming best friends with him.
I'm sure there are exceptions, but for most of us, relationships don't work that way–and I think we do ourselves and others a disservice to expect it to work differently with God. It's true that the scriptures communicate an invitation to know God in very close ways, but as often as "intimate personal relationship" gets used, you would think it's a direct quotation from a passage of the Bible. (It isn't.) The Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe the nature of our relationship to God, but I don't think any metaphor is used more often than that of God being a loving father, and us being God's children. This metaphor is throughout the teachings of Jesus, and in many other passages, such as this:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:1,3-4)
When we talk about knowing God, maybe we can find a better way of doing so than the usual "intimate personal relationship" description. Perhaps it's more helpful to talk about it in ways that are dominant throughout the bible–such as God being a loving father and us being his beloved children.
Considering things in that light helps us to see a bit differently. We can realize that the primary reality of the relationship between us and God, rather than being our "intimate personal" knowledge of God or lack thereof, is God's steadfastly loving knowledge of us. Just like children who are still very limited in their capacity to really know their parents, though they can surely love their parents and express that love in different meaningful ways, our knowledge of God doesn't instantly go from being strangers to best friends. Our knowledge of God will always have a different quality to it than our knowledge of other people. Regardless of how much I ever mature, I don't sit down and eat a burrito with God in the same way that I do with my friends.
As a child, I spent a lot of time with my dad. He knew me, and I knew him as well as little ones can know their parents. Before his death, though, I never really paid attention to how limited my knowledge of him was. There are many questions I would love to ask him now.
Yet even though my knowledge of him was limited by my being a child and his being my parent, I have still found myself becoming more and more like him as I've grown. Because of the time that I spent with him as a little one, then as a teenager, then as an adult, I'm still becoming more like him even though I never see him anymore, never hug him anymore, never ride around in the truck or eat a burrito with him anymore.
Maybe our knowledge of God is much more like that than the encounter with a stranger on the street who already knows everything about us, then with whom we instantly become best friends. For thousands of years, the ones who have known God best have insisted that we are his children and he is our loving father. So if the way that you know God can't be described as intimate and personal, I don't think I'd worry about it too much. Maybe it's more important to let it sink in to the core of our beings that we are known, loved, and welcome to spend time with a God whose is present everywhere. After years, even decades, of doing so, I'm sure that–because of the time spent with him, knowing him to whatever childish degree we were capable–we'll notice ourselves becoming more like him.
And to wrap our minds around this: the promise of scripture is that one day, God will finally set us–and everything–right, and the limits will be gone. "I know in part, for now; But then I’ll know completely, through and through, even as I’m completely known." (1 Corinthians 13:12, Kingdom New Testament)
Something I've prayed this week:
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:5-7)
[This is 17th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]