OK, so maybe there is a God. But even if that’s true, how can we know him? It’s not like you can just build up the nerve and ask him out for coffee—or can you?
Most of us—atheists, Buddhists, and Christians alike—have experienced a feeling of wanting there to be something more, a longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. After a particularly rough day, disappointing week, or devastating year, we sometimes find ourselves involuntarily hoping that this isn’t all there is.
Such thoughts have led many of us not only to wonder about the existence of God but even to ask ourselves how we can go about getting to know such an entity. For better or worse, there may be as many opinions on how to know God as there are grains of sand on the seashore.
But do you believe there’s even a God to know? Many people simply don’t. Perhaps science is all you feel you need; reason and rationale provide satisfactory answers to life’s greatest questions. God seems to be just a catch-all to describe events that cannot yet be explained by science. As Carl Sagan suggested, “Whatever it is we cannot explain lately is attributed to God . . . And then, after a while, we explain it, and so that’s no longer God’s realm.”1
Or maybe you feel it’s possible that there is a supreme being who designed the universe, but you can’t imagine that entity wanting anything to do with you. It is, after all, a hard concept to wrap your head around. How small we surely would seem to a being massive enough to create the entire world. Albert Einstein once said, “I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.”2 So we might leave it at that.
But say there is a being as magnificent as this and even a slight possibility that we could know him on an intimate level. Wouldn’t it be worth it to at least try? I, for one, have to admit to a bit of curiosity.
Throughout history, people have believed in the existence of a knowable God—that is, a God who exists not only on a grand scale, but also at a personal level. People will try all sorts of things to feel closer to a higher being or to find enlightenment. Some use drugs or other methods to find their high. But most have turned to some form of religion in an attempt to know and understand God.3
People from nearly every religion known to man have tried to know God by living monastic lifestyles, separated from the world and denying themselves various comforts. For thousands of years, adherents to religions like Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism have practiced yoga—a physical, mental, and spiritual form of meditation—to pursue knowledge of God.4 Others, including many Jews, Muslims, and Christians, have sought to know God through strict adherence to religious rules and rituals, believing they could earn God’s favor by distinguishing themselves from the masses through religious practice.
Could it be, though, that despite man’s best attempts, the keys to knowing God have nothing to do with being religious? Maybe God’s desire is not for us to follow rules or perform rituals, but simply to pursue a relationship with him.
Whether or not we believe in God, humans are, by nature, worshipers. We all choose something as the object of our ultimate devotion.5 It may be a loved one, a band, a sports team, a job, or even ourselves, but each of us select our own objects of worship and focus our time, energy, and money there.
What if this predisposition to worship is actually an internal longing to know God? What if God created within mankind a deep desire to know him?
Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth-century mathematician and Christian philosopher, illustrated this point: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”6
C. S. Lewis, the famous scholar, novelist, and atheist-turned-Christian, echoed this sentiment: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”7
As adherents to the Christian and Jewish belief systems understand it, God created humans with great care and deep concern for each of us individually. God cares for each person’s joy, well-being, and unique life path.8 Thousands of years ago, the Hebrew psalmist rejoiced in this, singing of God’s great love for him.9
Christians believe that, because God cherishes us, he longs for us to seek out a relationship with him—even if we have done wrong in the past.
For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?J.I. Packer
Have you ever heard the tale of the prodigal son? There was a young man who demanded his inheritance from his father; upon receiving it, he proceeded to live it up and squander all his wealth. After hitting rock bottom, the son returned home, full of remorse, shame, and apologies. But what did his father do? He didn’t turn his son away or mock him with I-told-you-sos. Instead he accepted his son’s repentance without hesitation and rejoiced that his lost son had returned to him.10
This is how Christians understand it to be with God. Each of us is a broken person, bruised by the world and guilty of hurting others with our selfishness. Yet, like reconciling with anyone, the first step in moving forward in that relationship is simply to acknowledge the wrong done, ask for forgiveness, and continue to grow together through communication.
I imagine we’ve all heard the word “prayer.” But what does that really mean? At its most basic, prayer is just another way to say having a conversation with God, talking to him—the main way we get to know anyone.
That can sound a little intimidating, can’t it? But you’ve already been building up the courage to ask for that coffee date. Besides, if he already loves you, what do you have to lose?
- Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, (New York:Penguin Press, 2006).
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (New York: Mariner Books, 2008).
- Gallup International, "Losing our religion? Two thirds of people still claim to be religious," April 13, 2015, http://www.wingia.com/web/files/news/290/file/290.pdf.
- Swami Prabhavananda, How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, The Vedanta Society, 1953, 1981.
- See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEtdMKjohR8, an intriguing video by author Timothy Keller on “Counterfeit Gods.”
- Blaise Pascal, Pensees. Retrieved December 28, 2011, from goodreads.com.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), 136.
- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Jeremiah 1:5.
- “I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.” The Holy Bible, Psalm 86:12–13.
- To read the full story of the prodigal son, see The Holy Bible, Luke 11–32.
- Photo Credit: TTphoto / Shutterstock.com.