Knowing God

Narrowly defined, theology is the study of God. Generally, though, theology is defined more broadly, relating to God and Christ, creation and new creation, redemption and reconciliation, and everything in between. As Herman Bavinck says, “So then the knowledge of God is the only dogma, the exclusive content, of the entire field of dogmatics. All the doctrines treated in dogmatics—whether they concern the universe, humanity, Christ and so forth—are but the explication of the one central dogma of the knowledge of God (Dogmatics, II:29). So everything is related to the study and knowledge of God. Understood in this way, theology proves itself to be immensely practical (Who would have thought?). More than practical, theology proves itself to be the very essence and foundation of life.

The knowledge of God “is life itself”

The knowledge of God “is life itself” (Bavinck). When the prophets of old described conversion they often referred to it in terms related to knowing God.

…for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:16b)

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord (Jer. 31:34)

And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (Jn. 17:3)

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? (Gal. 4:8-9)

“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” – John Calvin

The ancient Christian thinkers were merely echoing this Biblical emphasis when they spoke of the knowledge of God. “I desire to know God and the soul. Nothing more? No: nothing at all,” Augustine said. Calvin began his Institutes famously: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

This is a good reminder for us. It is a reminder that at the heart of any theological enterprise–at the heart of life itself!–is knowing God. And because knowing God is the goal of life, theology must stand at the center of life. In this way, we are all theologians. The question then is not whether we will be theologians, but whether we will be good or poor theologians. In the weeks to come we will consider our God in more detail, pondering together his attributes and nature, with a goal toward knowing him better.

Any thoughts?