The Hope of Certainty
Is knowing God really possible?
I know whom I have believed,
and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
–Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 1:12)
It was the week after Christmas, and the office was quiet. Most of our staff at New City Church were either out of town or at home with family. I’d taken the week off too, but one morning I stopped by my office to pick up some books. A few minutes after I arrived, someone walked through the front door. His name was Mike. He and his family had been attending New City for a while. Holidays or not, Mike had a question that couldn’t wait.
He slumped down in the chair next to the window. He confessed he’d been sitting in the parking lot for more than an hour debating whether he should walk in and talk to me. He had finally mustered the courage to come inside to ask me a single question: “How do I know if I know God?”
As we talked, it became clear that the question had been eating at Mike for at least a year–ever since I’d preached a sermon on Matthew 7. That’s the chapter where Jesus warns there will be many who go through life thinking they know God, only to hear chilling words when they meet him in eternity: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (verse 23).
Those eleven words–“I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness”–were haunting Mike. He was haunted by the simple, stark tragedy they convey: that a guy can be so badly mistaken about such an important relationship he can go through life thinking he knows God, only to hear a shocker at its end.
“Is it even possible, Tullian, to know God?” asked Mike. “I mean, really know him?”
Mike took his question further. If knowing God in this life determined whether we received an eternal welcome or its very disturbing opposite, then the stakes were even higher. “How can I know that I know God?” he asked.
One look at Mike’s face showed me he hadn’t driven to my office during Christmas week just to play Stump the Preacher.
Mike was confused and distressed, besieged by doubts. And he wanted answers. No, he needed answers.
There’s a story behind the story that you should know about Mike, something that might have been pressing him to get at the facts about knowing God. Before Mike started attending New City, he’d never been a churchgoing guy. When he fell ill with cancer, that changed. On his first Sunday at our church, Mike introduced himself and told me about his cancer. He asked me to pray with him and his family, and I did. Today, thankfully, Mike’s cancer is in remission. But anyone who’s had a brush with death is more likely to think deeply and courageously about life’s big questions.
Of course, Mike isn’t alone. I meet people almost every day who are struggling with whether God is knowable and, if he is, what it means to have a relationship with him.
Recently I received an e-mail from a friend named Curt. Although Curt says he’s a Christian, for some time he and his girlfriend had been struggling to integrate their relationships with God into their relationship with each other. They recently broke up.
Heartbroken and confused, Curt has been questioning the genuineness of his relationship with God ever since. When he discovered I was writing this book, he wrote:
“Ever since Jill and I broke up, I feel as if I’m slipping away from God, and I need help. When I read your e-mail about the book you’re writing, I almost didn’t read it all the way through, but something told me to keep reading. I can’t help thinking that God wants me to take my relationship with him a little more seriously.
I’ve been meaning to make an appointment with you, but I’ve been too full of pride to admit something–I don’t really know God as much as I thought I did. I know you’re busy, but when things aren’t so hectic, I’ll be around."
THE HUMAN NEED TO KNOW
The questions Mike and Curt are asking lead me to make an elementary but critical observation: all people throughout history can be divided into two groups–those who know God and those who don’t. Simple. True. Potentially devastating.
Fortunately, though, that isn’t the end of it. Not by any means.
For example, the Bible makes it clear that if you’re confused about which group you belong to, you don’t have to remain confused. If you do have a relationship with God, he wants you to know it.
And if you don’t have a relationship with God, he wants you to know it.
The Bible also shows that the flip side of these dramatic statements is true. God does not want you to think you have a relationship with him if you don’t. And he doesn’t want you to think you do not have a relationship with him if you do.
In this matter, ignorance is not bliss. And thankfully, neither is it necessary.
At our core, you and I have been created to want and need God. In fact, as we’ll see in the pages ahead, he designed us specifically to be in a close, life-fulfilling relationship with him. That’s why when we’re out of relationship to him or we aren’t sure where we stand with him, we feel restless, numbed, somehow incomplete.
It doesn’t matter who we are or how much security we experience in other areas of our lives–as beings created in the image of God, we long for the kind of certainty that only an authentic relationship with God can satisfy.
Do you resonate with this deeply human need for clarity and certainty regarding a relationship with God? If so, then this book is for you. It is my attempt to give Mike, Curt, and every other sincere spiritual seeker credible answers to the all-important question:
“Do I know God?”
From the Hardcover edition.