How did you come to your understanding of God? Take a moment and think about it. Did you just decide some things about Him because that’s how you hope He is? Did you read something that appealed to you so you adopted those ideas? Did something happen in your life that you attributed to Him or blamed Him for? Did somebody tell you about Him? Perhaps it was a combination of two or more of these. The question is do you know God or just believe stuff about Him?
God is as real as anything we can see in this world and we can’t change who He is simply because we hold a certain belief. In order to get to know God, we have to replace our beliefs with knowledge. The Bible is our source for getting to know who God really is.
We frequently read articles about controversial movies only to find out the person writing the article never saw the movie. Most of us won’t tell others what a book says until after we’ve read it. Yet, before they have read the Bible with any degree of seriousness or commitment, most people are more than willing to tell us what it says. “It’s full of contradictions.” (It’s not.) “The Bible supports slavery, genocide, anti-Semitism and degrades women.” (It doesn’t.) So I ask them, “Have you ever studied the Bible?” “Well, no, but….” Most of us prefer our beliefs about what the Bible says about God over the knowledge we gain from studying it.
I’ve never been to Hawaii. I know some stuff about it from books, movies, TV shows, and things people have told me about it. I’ve never studied Hawaii nor have I ever done any research. When I think about Hawaii, I fill in the things I don’t know with guesses or what I hope it is like. Some of the things I believe might be true. If I’m talking to somebody who has been there, they will certainly point out to me the things I believe that aren’t true. For example, I like to think that all the streets in Hawaii are winding, dirt roads with foliage all around blocking the hot sun and all the residents travel them on mopeds. I suppose the reality is that many of the streets are just like the ones where I live: endless slabs of concrete filled with honking cars spewing pollutants into the air. But that doesn’t fit my picture of Hawaii, so I reject that. My belief doesn’t change what the streets in Hawaii are really like and if I ever go there, I will see the concrete streets filled with cars and I will have to replace my belief with this knowledge. No matter what we believe about things, we can’t change what they really are. The same is true about God.
Don’t let someone or something tell you about God – open your Bible and read and study Him. Don’t hold so tightly to long-held beliefs that you don’t get to know who He really is. Begin with the understanding that God is good, “Be still,” and read a little bit every day. My tip for the week: Don’t read too quickly – God doesn’t use a lot of words to make His point. Small words and phrases often have deep meaning in the Bible. You might not notice this at first, but the longer you study, the more evident this will become. Here’s an example:
II Chronicles 20:30 says “Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.” Read it again. Did you pick up on the “his God” part? Not THE God, not OUR God – “HIS God.” Here’s what God told me this morning about Himself: the Creator of the universe is personal – God cares about me and watches over me. “[He] GAVE him rest….” God wants to be in control of my life so He can make it good – only He can provide true rest from the things the world throws at me. Jehoshaphat allies himself with an evil king instead of relying on God, yet God granted him rest. God reminded me that He forgives me. No matter how hard I try, I will fail God, but He will never stop loving me as long as I love Him. This is at least the 4th time I’ve read that passage and I never noticed any of this before. Today God told me about His love, His personal interest in me, His forgiveness, and what His control over my life can mean in less than 10 words!
I find it amazing that God wants us to know Him. He tells us everything, too, not just the “nice” stuff. He tells us about His judgments, His wrath and anger, His ONE plan for people to get to eternity with Him, His hatred of even the smallest sin, how strict His requirement for obedience is. I often think He should have just told us about His great love and mercy, His unfailing forgiveness, His long-suffering patience, how He protects us. But He told us everything. Most people ignore or reject the unpleasant things about God, but we don’t get to pick and choose His attributes. Fashioning your own version of God is idolatry.
We aren’t going to understand everything about God and how He operates. He knew that, too, when He chose to reveal these things to us. What that tells me is that God is confident that I can come to an understanding of His goodness and that I can see His love in spite of the things I don’t like or understand about Him. I just have to keep studying and let Him speak to me, building my relationship with Him. I have to get to know Him, not just hold beliefs about Him.