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“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord….”
Philippians 3:8, New International Version.
Is the purpose of Christian spirituality to grow in a greater knowledge of God? Or, is the purpose of Christian spirituality to bring one increasingly to that place where they are known more wholly by God?
“Knowing” God as an object of intellectual inquiry runs the risk of a certain hubris that is always a danger for the human soul. To “know” in this sense implies the possibility, at least, of knowing God completely. This, however, reduces God to a spiritual being whose essential nature, mind and conduct are capable of being apprehended by the human mind, understood in all their multitudinous implications, and embraced in an intentional action of human will and mind.
What seems innocent enough on the surface, a spirituality that grows one in knowing God, is in fact impossible, at least from that angle. And there are accompanying dangers. To “know” God can too often imply some sense of ownership, either of God, His will or a correct understanding and explication of the same. One can corner the market on this understanding of God and His will, and can even end up insisting that this view of things, of God in particular, is the only correct way of thinking about Him, of knowing Him.
On the other hand, if the purpose of Christian spirituality is to bring the individual increasingly to that place where they are known more wholly by God, then some of the above dangers are obviated. Now, the emphasis is on serving God in love and not on knowing Him.
Still, it is a strange way to speak: “to bring the individual increasingly to that place where they are known more wholly by God. How does this make sense? How can God, who created me in the first place, know me any better tomorrow than He does today, simply by my practicing some spiritual disciplines, classical or not?
It is better to be known by God, and through His knowing, grow in knowing ourselves, than it is to attempt to know Him for ourselves, and so grow in some sort of knowledge of who we are and what might be expected of us.
Text and picture copyright Don Schatz