Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.– Philippians 4
In his book Knowing God, James Innell Packer writes about what it means to be close to God. He begins with the distinction between knowing God and having knowledge about God. It is possible to know a great deal about God, without necessarily knowing God, i.e. having experienced his presence. Essentially, it is the distinction between dogma and experience. There is a great deal of dogmatic knowledge that can be accumulated, but knowing God is about feeling his presence.
Knowing God has nothing to do with one’s particular religion. Different religions simply represent the different cultures and historical circumstances that gave birth to them. While some religions stress certain aspects of God more than others, or communicate them particularly poignantly, they all strive to approach the same point, simply from a different direction. Once we transcend the particular customs of our religion, and become familiar with God, really get to know Him, the experience will be the same. Indeed, mystics of all religions have upset the dogmatic establishment of their particular religion, simply because they sought wisdom wherever they could find it, even if it was in the writings of the adherents of another religion.
According to Packer, those who know God share these characteristics:
- Great Energy: Those who know God have great energy, for praying and for action in the service of God.
- Boldness: Those who know God do not fear consequences.
- Contentment: Those who know God have peace of mind, because they know that any worldly problem is insignificant compared to the greatness of God.
I think the main reason why personal knowledge of God changes one’s perspective and motivations so drastically is that the primary source of meaning and safety is no longer the self, but God. If we do not know God, if we do not feel without any doubt that he is here, then the only way to a feeling of safety is to defend our self-interest. That means that we must bow to authority, we must manipulate situations and people to ensure that we are safe. If we know that God exists, and with that I mean not some intellectual knowledge or fragile belief, I mean that if we feel in every fibre of our body that God exists and that we are part of Him and His creation, then we are safe, whatever happens – the Bible speaks of “a peace which surpasses all understanding”. We can accept things as they are, and we no longer need to please and manipulate. At the same time it gives the strength to oppose those who act against God, who hurt and demean.
Sadhguru, an Indian mystic, was once asked if he believed in God. He replied that he did not believe God existed; he knew it. He went on to explain that there is no point in “believing” in God if you do not feel that He is present. How do we arrive at such an awareness of the presence of God? Through contemplation and meditation. If we empty ourselves of our selfish desires, we become a suitable vessel for God, and He will come to us and we will be able to feel His presence.
Knowledge of God makes it impossible to be indifferent towards destructive behavior. As long as we are mainly interested in our self-interest, we care very little about whether other people’s behavior is immoral or not. Without God, existence is meaningless and all life philosophies are equally arbitrary – it does not matter how we live our lives. But if we know that God exists, this also entails an ideal about what humans should aspire to be. It represents a reference frame that judges our behavior – have we realized our human potential to be close to God, or have we not? We become aware that unwholesome behavior separates us from God, and creates suffering.
[The above statements reflect my personal point of view. I realize that religion is a very personal topic, and I do not want criticize readers who have a different opinion and perspective. If you do have a different perspective, do not hesitate to leave a comment below. I would be happy to discuss.]