Rev. Kim provides an insightful discussion on what “Knowing God” is all about. The first of a 2-part series.
This lecture was provided at the 2016 congregational retreat on June 24, 2016.
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Reflection and Discussion
Forget about everything that you left behind in Toronto, your work, your worries, and anxieties, at least for two days. Let us not worry about what’s ahead of us and let us focus on the present moment and enjoy the fellowship here. Let us be soaked in the presence of the love of our brothers and sisters and also in God’s awesome presence. I hope that we can be all soaked, even though it’s one or two days, then we can be really soaked by the presence of God. I hope that you can spend some time with your family, with your friends, and with your children, but also, have some time alone, to walk around, to think in this beautiful nature. Especially since this year’s theme is Knowing God. It’s a very important topic and there are lots of things that you can reflect on.
I hope that we have a great time together singing, talking, having a discussion and playing sports. To all the group leaders, the questions that you receive are not mandatory questions for you to answer, those are discussions starters. As you listen to the lecture, I hope that you can also come up with your own questions, jot down whatever triggers you and instead of just following each question and answering them one by one, just get the discussion going. While you’re listening to the lecture you can take some of the insight and some of the things that interest you. I want you to write down those things and then discuss them with your group. Knowing God is a big and difficult topic.
Challenge Your Assumptions
How do we know God whom we cannot see, touch or analyze? It’s a difficult topic. What does it mean to know God and what happens when you know God? Is there a process in knowing God? These are some of the questions that we are going to deal with at this retreat. We are going to talk about not only these questions, but there are many other things that we’re going to deal with too. I don’t think too much about the question ‘How do we know God?’, or the methodology of how we know God. I don’t think I can give you the methodology. I don’t think I can give you an answer to that. How will you know? I cannot do magic here. So that after this retreat, I want you to, instead of thinking about the methodology of how you know God, I want you to think about your own assumptions about God. I want you to think about some of the assumptions that you do not even question yourself. Assumptions that you just adopted and you don’t even know where you got that idea about God. They may be from Sunday school or from your parents or from society. This is what people say of God, so challenge the assumptions you may have.
You may also have some language and language is great to articulate what we feel. What we experienced and what we know is great, the language is good, but sometimes language can limit you because you’re locked up in a certain language. For example, let’s say the word salvation. Then you are locked up. A certain image is already there and you cannot go beyond the image that you have or understand that you have about salvation. Language can limit your understanding, language can limit your perception and your image. So I want you to free up your image. I don’t want it to be locked up in the language. I want you to be freed up from all of that.
When this happens then even about salvation, you have a new understanding of salvation, a new understanding of God. I hope that these without languages and these assumptions, I want you to think about who God really is to you. Certain perceptions and image that you are locked up into, I want you to free that up so that you may experience the reality of God in a real, tangible way. Knowing God or our understanding of God is very important because your relationship with God will be determined by your understanding of God. If your idea of God is a very strict authoritarian God, then your relationship with God will be a very formal and courteous relationship. When we sing the song As the Deer Pants for the Water, the second verse is ‘You are my friend and You are my brother’. Even though He is a king, God is our friend.
Jesus is our friend. One lady came up to me and said, “I can never understand that. I can never understand that God can be a friend or Jesus can be a friend. Jesus who’s always up there. Oh, the powerful person. But I can never see Jesus as a friend”. Since some people just have a hard time understanding God in that way, their relationship with God will be determined by their perception of God. For example, another woman came to me and said “I cannot relate to the father image of God. The last song is a beautiful song. But is a good, good father only, if they could put good, good mother, then it would have been perfect. For me, I love my father and my father loved me, but we didn’t really have that kind of relationship. First of all, my father passed away when I was young, and he was 70 years old. And until then my father was somebody so far so I cannot get near to and never had a discussion. So when we say that my God is my father. It doesn’t really ring true to me. My mother has been always with me. We have a very intimate relationship, we have and the kind of love she showed. So when I said, my God is like my mother, then it rings more true to me”. Depending on what image that you have about God, your relationship with God will be determined, and also your life will be affected by your understanding of God. Knowledge of God affects you and your life. You all have certain ideas of God and these ideas shape your worldview, your morality and your lifestyle consciously or unconsciously sometimes. You think “Oh God is like this as well I have to behave like this”. Some people do that more consciously, religious people do that.
Know God With Your Whole Existence
Always think about God, always think ‘what would God think?’. What would Jesus do? WWJD Right? Some religious people always think about WWJD, what would Jesus do, so they’re more consciously and explicitly think about God. But a lot of other people also unconsciously or implicitly think about God in the back of their minds. That kind of shapes your worldview, your morality, and your lifestyle. Depending on their understanding of God, some people may live with tremendous, guilt and pressure. So knowledge of God is very much related to our life and it is important. Knowing God is not just an exercise of the brain, but knowing God is something to do with your whole existence. Knowing God is intertwined intimately with what I experience daily, so knowing God, whether you can define or articulate, ‘this is my understanding of God’ or not, is still is very much interrelated to your personal daily life.
This is what Hosea said: “come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Beautiful Poem, that beautiful poem is a beautiful passage. But when you look at this passage, what you can see from this passage is that God is very much involved in our lives very intimately.
God is not God up there somewhere. God is not just a concept. God is the living being who is very much intertwined with our living. God will tear us and God will strike us down but God will also heal us and God will bind us up. Look at the language, it’s very much our daily lives. God is right there with us, things that are happening in our lives, they do not just happen. God is behind it. God is with us. God is within us and God is among us. And Hosea saw that this is what God is doing. God is striking them down, but also God is raising them up and God is healing them. Hosea saw vividly, graphically, what God does to his people. So Hosea’s conclusion is, “let us know. Let us press on to know the Lord.”
A New Understanding of God
Saint Paul’s religious experience right on the road to Damascus he had a divine encounter. He was on the way to persecute Christians. He was pretty sure what he was doing was right and he thought he did it for God. A very strong light came down upon him and he fell from the horse and he heard the voice. The voice said he was Jesus who’s followers Paul persecuted. It was a supernatural experience. Not many of us have that kind of fantastic experience, but what amazes me about St Paul’s experience is not that it was supernatural. What amazes me about Paul’s experience is what happened after his supernatural experience. What happened to him after that supernatural experience? It totally turned him around. See, before that experience, Paul used to live comfortably with a well-defined understanding of God. He probably would say, ‘I know God, I know that what God wants and this is what I want to do, and this is why I’m doing this’. Paul was persecuting Christians because he believed he knew that that was God’s will.
He was very clear, comfortable with his own well-defined understanding of God, but his unchallenged knowledge of God was seriously challenged through his experience. Because of this, he got totally confused. ‘I thought that was God, but now I know that was not God’, he was totally confused, disillusioned. From then on, he started a real search for the God whom he truly believed. What is the God and who is the God whom I truly believe deep in my heart, not the God whom he adopted from his tradition, religion, and upbringing. Not the God I took automatically not that kind of God. I want God who really matters to me.
He wanted to find God for whom he’d give his life for, not just a theoretical God, who would have had no effect on his life. He was searching for God for whom he would sacrifice his life for and he did since then he devoted his life to searching for the understanding of God. From that experience, he started searching for the God who really mattered to him. And in the journey in the process of searching for God, he got tremendous insight, not only about God but also about himself, about faith and about life. Knowing God is tremendous. He shared all his insights about God in his letters. You know when I read Paul’s letters and his messages, I felt like he was like looking at the X-ray of our body or kaleidoscope of our body just going through and examining what is going on. Food goes down into the stomach and then from there, it goes through the body and it’s like the whole dynamics of the body is like our life, our spiritual and inner life.
Unique Living God
He had clear and sharp insight about life. He found his own authentic God. When you find your authentic God, your life will be affected significantly by that God. I want to call that authentic God, living God. That authentic God is living God. There were three experiences on the road to Damascus. He became free finally from his prejudice and from his uncritically accepted assumptions about God. With that liberated state of mind, he started interacting with the living God. And from that interaction, he got living knowledge about life, about faith, about salvation, and about God. That was where he got all his insights about himself life and God. You know the living God, this living God, is very unique to each person. The living God that appears to you may not be generally agreed on doctrine or dogma about God.
Paul had so much trouble because of the living God he found. When he had God of doctrine, God of dogma, he had no problem, he could live comfortably. But when he found the living God and when he lived out, the will of the living God, he had so much trouble, he discarded the well-defined doctrine such as circumcision, his attitude towards gentiles, and about food and all that stuff. That was a well-established understanding of God, but he started throwing that away as he found the living God. The living God is very personal and unique to you.
The living God that is revealed to me may be different from the living God that is revealed to Simon and different to a God who’s revealed to Inha. Living God is very unique and personal. When you read Genesis, you encountered this passage a lot: God of Abraham God of Isaac, and God of Jacob. It didn’t say God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why? Because the God of Abraham is different from the God of Isaac and is different from the God of Jacob. Their experience is different. Abraham’s life was very different from Jacob’s life. And God who is revealed to Abraham is very different from God who is revealed to Jacob. Of course, it’s not a different God but a different revelation to different people because their experience is different. God wants us to know the living God because only that knowledge will truly affect us. All other concepts of God will have no effect on us. You will not give your life for, you will not sacrifice your life for that concept. Don’t live with the concept of God. Live with the living God. The concept is very easy to live with, but truly having the living God is very difficult. What kind of God is a God who has no effect on you?
Is there a God? If God has no effect on you then what kind of God is that. If God is that God that you will not sacrifice anything for what kind of God is that? That is a concept of God, not the living God. And many people live with the concept of God and they are comfortable with that. They just like to have nominal God for their own security and comfort. Only when we get to know the living God that God becomes a true God to us. A general understanding of God is really a concept. What God wants from us is to know the Living God, because that will make life our so much more abundant and enjoyable.
Movement of Life
Living God is dynamic, not static, the concept of God is static, but living God is dynamic. God himself or herself is a dynamic movement within oneself. God is in dynamic movement. God is not a static concept. God is a dynamic living in me. Listen to the psalmist confession “as a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you oh God, my soul thirsts for God, for the Living God”. He’s not satisfied with the concept of God, his soul thirsts for the living God. “When shall I come and behold the face of God by tears have been my food day and night. While people say to me continually, where is your God?”. He’s so thirsty for the living God and he was challenged by people: “where is your God?”. We should ask ourselves, where is your God? Where is your God? Not somebody else’s God, not your parents’ God. Not your friend’s Gods. Oh, where is your God?
That is something that we have to ask ourselves. We need to encounter the living God. Nicodemus came to Jesus one day and Jesus said, “you want to enter into the Kingdom of God? You have to be born again” and he said, “you hear the wind, but you don’t know where it’s coming from and where it’s going to”. It’s like in a mystery, uncertainty, but one thing that’s clear in that passage is that there’s a movement. The dynamic God is working in your life, that is what it means to be born again. There’s a movement. You don’t know where he’s coming from and where he’s going to, but there’s a movement. Jesus introduced that kind of dynamical living God. Knowing God is not about gathering information on God, then ministers or theologians should know God the best. Do we? No.
We know as much as you do. We know about God, but knowing God does not depend on how much information you have about God. Knowing God is not about information It’s not about knowing about God, knowing God is different, knowing God is not about information, knowing God is about transformation. It’s not a cerebral exercise, it’s not what’s happening in your brain, it’s what’s happening in your whole being, not just information you gather, you get transformation as you get to know God. As you try to get to know God, a new movement begins with us. Somehow before nothing moves, but as you get to know God somehow in your life there’s a movement. Something is moving in your heart, in your thinking, in your emotion in your life, in everything, you start moving.
When you have the concept of God you stay the same, always the same. You’re just going for settlement, security, but as you get to the living God, the movement begins. That’s how the journey begins. Our whole self-starts moving towards the truth to God. The problem is that what we have is the concept of God. That’s why there is no movement, no change, no transformation, just a lot of doctrines within your brain. And with your stubborn will, you’ll clean your doctrine that’s all you do. As you get to know the living God a journey begins. A life that used to try to establish the settlement now starts the journey. If you believe in God for your settlement, that’s not Christian God. That may be fine in some other religion, but God is not about the settlement.
The Journey of Knowing God
Knowing God is like taking on the journey of knowing God. The first person who introduced the Judaeo Christian God, who is that, the first person who introduced Judaeo Christian God? Abraham. Abraham was the first person who introduced Judaeo Christian God. He was an idol worshiper, he was living in war, he lived very comfortably serving idols, just like many of us in North American society. “Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants”. You go to the promised land. And I said yes we’ll go. So they throw away idols and they started the journey. What happened?
They got tempted. They got settled in Haran so they lived in Haran for many years and God called them again. ‘No, not Haran, go further. To the promise land, to Canaan’. So Isaac wrote this: war to Haran is a settlement. Maybe this God will give us better settlements, better security, better life. So they stayed in Haran. But God told him from he must move from Haran to Canaan. God called Abraham out of the settlement and pushed him into a journey. This journey was not the journey to live a better life. This journey was a journey to know God. If your life is a journey then that journey is a journey of searching for the true living God, the living God Paul found, the living God Abraham found and the living God Jesus introduced.
Eternal Life is Quality of Life
Jesus prayed in this way. Hear this interesting prayer, his last prayer before he died. ‘And this is eternal life. The thing they know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’. That’s why I like John, Gospel John. That’s why I taught seven times in this church I did seven times the study of Gospel John. His understanding of eternal life is very unique. His understanding of eternal life is knowing God. That’s what eternal life is. Eternal life is not just you go to Heaven after you die. Eternal life is knowing God. So our journey of knowing God is our journey of eternal life. Eternal life is a quality of life, not the quantity, the length of life, it’s the quality of life. The kind of quality you want to live with eternally. That is what eternal life is. Knowing God is the key to eternal life.
That’s why Saint Paul said: knowing Christ is a surpassing value of all things he did and was. Before he didn’t do that. Now, knowing Christ, knowing God is the only thing that’s most valuable. And this is what he said: these things he did and he was, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and regard and regard them as rubbish. I called that real God, I call that living God. He was able to regard everything else rubbish because he found the most precious thing and that is Jesus Christ. That is God. That is living God, not the concept of God and he lived. Without knowing God we perish.
This is what Hosea said: my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because you have rejected knowledge. You know when I look at Saint Paul’s life, his life opened up, you know there is a life that is opened up and there is a life that is not opened up yet when I look at Paul’s life, his life opened up. When he truly got to know the living God, his life opened up. Not God the of the law, not nominal God, not God of the custom or culture, but the living God that opens up our life. The door of the mystery of life opens up when you get to know the living God. As we get to know the living God, meaning, purpose, direction, passion, abundance, hopefulness, joy, aliveness, thankfulness, all these things become characteristic of your life. What more do you ask for?
I think about when people’s lives open up. For example, Paul laid out all his prejudices and then started to get to know God. I was thinking about Katie, she probably thinks that “I don’t have much time left on this earth, I’m gonna go soon”. I think she feels that she senses that. Cancer has spread all over her body, but when that happens, a different door opens up. I think her thinking right now is very different from our thinking. The kind of thing that she reflects on will be very different from the kinds of things that we reflect on. Sometimes when life tragedy hits us the door that did not open before opens up. You see different things through that open door. You know what we do on the surface, it’s very similar. We work and come home tired. You eat, watch movies, dramas and take care of your young children and sometimes we can be relaxed and do things that we enjoy. Sports, movies, music. What determines the quality of life is not what you do on the surface. It’s what you feel and experiences inside in every moment of your life.
Real happiness is not what you do on the outside. Real happiness, is a quality of how you feel inside every moment. When I’m happy inside, what do I do? I enjoy it. Whatever I eat. I enjoy it. My problem is even if I’m not happy I enjoy what I eat. But when I’m not happy inside, whatever I do, I don’t find it enjoyable. When you’re enlightened, everything comes alive. When you’re sad and, when you have problems, when you’re not happy inside, even though you look at a beautiful lake and a pond outside and you see it, it saddens you more. Rather than saying, oh, look how beautiful that is. This is what Saint Paul said in his letter to Ephesians, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him so that the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. What are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints and what is the measurable greatness of his power for us who believe according to the working of his great power” and when you look at this passage, there’s a process. First, you come to know him. The father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation and then you will come to know him, and then your eyes of the heart are enlightened in other words, open. Then when it’s open you’ll be able to see hope and riches and immeasurable greatness of his power. All these things, this is a process. The process is: you know God, eyes of your heart enlightened, you know the abundance of life and power of life. All eternal quality.
It’s not what’s happening outside it’s what’s happening inside. Two trees that you see, you look at two trees, they look the same when you first see it. But if there’s a water going up and down and up and down there’s a dynamic movement that tree will bloom and have leaves and flowers. A dead tree, as time goes by, will decay, deteriorate, ultimately it will die. Two trees on the outside look the same. But the interior, the inside is very different. What determines our fate, our destiny, is not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s inside. You know, if you want to know how powerful Paul’s inner life was, even in prison, he was happy and told Philippians to rejoice always. In the circumstances where we may feel totally miserable he was happy and advised others to be happy. How is it possible? Because his inner self-was strong, he did not depend on his outer circumstances.
His inner life was so strong that his actual circumstances cannot take away the power of life he enjoyed. I think it’s got to do with his knowledge of God. As we really got to know God, his external life did not necessarily get better. As I said if you want settlement the Christian God may not be the right God for you. Paul’s life after getting to know the living God was very difficult. It wasn’t easy. It got more difficult. His situation became worse: persecution, imprisonment, hardships. He’s telling other people, other disciples, “are they the ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman. I’m a batter one with far greater labors, far more inclusiveness with countless floggings and often near death. Five times I received from the Jews the 40 matches minus one three times I was beaten with rocks. Once I received a stoning, three times I was shipwrecked, for a night and the day I was adrift at Sea, on frequent journeys in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the Wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters, in toil and hardship through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food cold and naked and besides other things, I’m under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all churches”.
Think about how difficult his life was. Through all this, his inner life so strongly intact, this is what he said: “For I have learned to be content with whatever I had. I know what is very little and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”. That’s, confidence, that’s power. That’s the kind of life I envy and I want to follow. What a strong life. What a cool life. That is the kind of life I want to live. That only happens on the inside and as you get to know about that, the inside becomes strong. So truly knowing the living God can do wonderful things to us. My friends, it is difficult to truly know the living God. Why? Knowing God is like an oxymoron. God is by definition unknowable, so knowing the unknowable is an oxymoron. God cannot be contained within our knowledge, God is too big to know, God is ineffable.
Rules Do Not Define God
About two or three months ago, I had so many nosebleeds, it’s not because I worked harder than before. Every morning I get a nosebleed, I was concerned, what’s going on here? We moved into a condo and the condo is a little too dry. So I bought a humidifier. I think it got a little better one night, but the next day it started bleeding again. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. And then I finally got the answer. About a week before, I went to clean my nose so thoroughly, in the shower, I cleaned every single thing I don’t know how long I was doing it for, just nose cleaning. And I must have damaged the left nose cause it only came out the left nose not the right nose. Later I found you need to leave something there. You cannot clean it perfectly. So I bought nose cream, and I put it on. Two days later I was fine. I never noticed it was up there. I mean it was a mystery to me, but there’s always a reason, right? It’s always a reason, logic behind it.
Last year, September 14th, legal LIGO observatory discovered the evidence that proves Einstein’s gravitational wave. 1.4 billion years ago, two black holes collided with each other and merged and the rest of the mass created a gravitational wave. The observatory waited and waited and picked up that signal and then picked up another signal after that. So they can prove that Einstein was right. Einstein was amazing, wasn’t he? And these scientists, I think they are amazing. How they find that it happened 1.4 billion years ago? They’re amazing, but still, all it did was to only discover the rules that govern the universe, the rule that governs my body. But there is no rule that governs the movement of God. God is beyond every rule, God made the rules and law, but God is not bound by those rules and laws. There’s nothing in the world that binds God.
God is completely free. God is free to love us, God is beyond everything. So Muslims confess this way, Allahu Akbar, God is greater, God is always greater. God is greater than the greatest thought you may have. And our gospel writer John expressed it, differently, but the same thing. “No one has ever seen God beyond our visibility beyond what we can understand”. When we say they know something very well we can say we have mastered it. But we can never master God. We can never be experts on God. I think Thomas Merton’s prayer was the honest prayer, when he said, “Your brightness is my darkness, I know nothing of You and by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagined You I’m mistaken. If I understand You, I’m deluded. If I’m conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy. The darkness is enough”. What an honest statement. That’s who our God is like. Thomas Merton’s most famous prayer is this: “My Lord I have no idea where I’m going”. Saint Augustin said: “if you have understood, it is not God. God is a mystery, so knowing God is like knowing the mystery.
In your journey of knowing God, you will encounter the hidden God and revealed God” it’s like hide and seek. The grandchild of Rabbi Baruch, a very famous rabbi, his grandchild was playing hide and seek with another boy he hid and stayed in his hiding place for a long time assuming that his friend would look for him. Finally, he went out and saw that his friend was gone, apparently not having looked for him at all and that his own hiding had been in vain. He ran into the study of his own grandfather crying and complaining about his friend. Upon hearing this story, Rabbi Baruch broke into tears and said God to says, “I hide but there is no one to look for me”. Sometimes we don’t know when God reveals himself and when God hides in our journey we will encounter both the hiding God and the revealing God. When God hides I hope that we don’t become the ones that don’t look for God. Share some of the thoughts of knowing God, I hope that some of your assumptions of concepts of God, if they have no effect on you, they’re useless, they’re merely a concept, they’re merely nice ideas.
I hope that we may be in a small way make an encounter with the living God in every day of our lives. I hope that throughout this retreat I hope that you encounter that living God and think about your own assumptions and concepts of God.