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My question is motivated by Eleonore Stump's video Can Philosophy of Religion Find God?, suggested by this answer. In the video, Stump elaborates on how philosophy of religion can be helpful in understanding facts about God, likening it to acquiring biographical information about a third person, from a rather distant perspective. This stands in sharp contrast with someone who possesses direct, intimate, one-on-one experiential knowledge of a person. Some would even argue that God's existence can be established rationally using reason alone, which is a point of contention, but even if we concede it, knowing that God exists intellectually is unlikely to be the same as knowing God personally.

What are Christian guidelines for making the transition from "knowing about God" to "knowing God"?


Note: Having an intimate experiential knowledge of God resonates strongly with Christian mysticism, by my lights (see here and here). However, I acknowledge my potential bias in this matter and remain receptive to insights from various Christian traditions, which might suggest different approaches to knowing God personally. Considering this, perhaps transforming this question into an overview of different viewpoints would be beneficial?

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  • Can you say why that transition might be different in Christianity than in any other religion or belief? Mar 15 at 20:58
  • @RobbieGoodwin If I had to, and if I knew the answer, sure.
    – Mark
    Mar 16 at 5:11
  • Thanks and how could 'if I had to' come into this? Doesn't that suggest you simply won't? If you can't say why that transition might be different in Christianity than any other religion or belief, what value could the OQ ever have? Mar 17 at 22:55

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The more relevant question is probably: Whom does the Lord know?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. - Matthew 7:21-23

The religious leaders in Jesus' day certainly knew about God without knowing Him:

Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also. - John 8:19

One of them came to Jesus secretly, by night, and admitted to knowing that Jesus had come from God. Jesus' response was that, unless one is born again they can neither see nor enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3).

To transition from knowing about God (religion) to knowing God (relationship) one must "do the will of my Father which is in heaven". What is this 'will of God' that we must do?:

This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. - John 6:29b

What does this look like, practically speaking? One must repent of one's sin, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and then that one will receive the Holy Spirit. The very presence of God will take up residence in that believer's heart. This is knowing God.

Plenty of folks list all manner of commandments that constitute 'doing the will of God' but they are putting the cart before the horse. First comes the 'new birth'; first comes a renewed mind, and then follows that sort of doing:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. - Romans 12:1-2

One must present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice. This is not religion and not mystical metaphor ... this is a one-on-one personal transaction with the Living God. That is to say, one must abdicate the throne of one's heart in favor of the King that God has anointed. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. We have no right to ownership of the vessel once the harbormaster has purchased the fleet.

The Word of God is dead, as the governing principle of life, in the hearts of everyone by nature. This is our inheritance from Adam (I will be like God, knowing good and evil). The Word of God was made flesh and was lifted up on a cross, put to death by men. Jesus dead on a cross as a picture of what is killing me. When I accept that the One on the cross got what I rightly deserve and beg Him to switch places, crucifying me and living in my heart, then, and only then, do I know God and am known by Him.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. - John 3:14-15

What did Moses lift up (see Numbers 21)? An image of what was killing the people. What got lifted up on Calvary? The physical embodiment of what is killing us. He made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us. What is sin? The Word of God dead in the human heart. Repent and believe and you will know God.

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The personal transition from merely knowing about God (intellectually, philosophically) to knowing God personally is clearly explained to all who would read and put into practice Jesus' words in John's gospel:

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him" John 14:6-7 A.V.

That astounded the disciple Philip who said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." To which Jesus made the even more staggering claim that because the Father is in him, and he is in the Father, to see him is to see the Father (vss. 8-10).

But these were not statements to philosophize over! Jesus went on to show what action was required. First to believe what he had said, second, to ask the Father believingly, in prayer and in Jesus' name, and third, to keep Jesus' commands out of love.

Then the Holy Spirit would be sent to that believing, obedient person, to dwell in that person, to give him comfort and joy (vs. 16-17).

The final words of explanation from Jesus are perfectly simple and clear, so that even an uneducated person or one with no natural capacity for philosophy, could understand and do:

"If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (vss. 23 A.V.)

Therefore, when we read chapter 17 verse 3, it all makes simple sense, and the person who does the above, will know the Father personally - not mere head-knowledge - no mere knowing about God - they will understand what Jesus meant in these words of prayer to God the Father:

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." John 17:3 A.V.

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    That explains why Jesus said if you love me, keep my commandments. The kingdom of God has no rank due to education or riches but God is their father and all we his children and equal. Mar 13 at 16:34
  • 2
    Indeed, obedience is the response of love and not the work that earns it. +1 Mar 14 at 12:37
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Simply keep God's commandments and do His will.

God requires us to be obedient to have anything more than a distant awareness of Him:

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)

The Savior was clear that He sought such as would worship Him in Spirit and in truth, and that those who do not humble themselves enough to serve their fellow man do not know Him.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14).

This is not a fatalistic or Calvinistic pronouncement. It is an opportunity and an invitation to gain spiritual discernment by keeping the Lord's sayings. He frequently referred to the blindness of people, and intentionally hid things from those who were unprepared:

For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath. (Mark 4:25)

Knowing requires us to change. If we have intellectual knowledge of or belief in God, the next step is to repent:

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. .. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:3,6 KJV)

This is attested and expounded in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ:

It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:9-11)

And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.

But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever—yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints. (2 Nephi 9:42-43)

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

And I said: Lord, how is it done?

And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Enos 1:4-8)

The examples given in the Bible agree completely. The man with whom God talked face to face, Moses, kept God's commandments:

Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3)

(Meek means having self-control.) Every Scriptural example and lesson agrees. If we keep God's commandments, we will know Him. If we do not keep His commandments, we might know about Him, but we will not know Him.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

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