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BY JORDAN HEPBURN

Whether a Christian, agnostic, or atheist, one has probably heard in Christian circles “The Bible is God’s word.” This phrase means that Christians believe the Bible to be one of God’s revelations to mankind, i.e. it is one of the ways in which God reveals himself to humans so that we can know about him truthfully. However, a few questions arise naturally from this statement. How is it possible for people to know God? Why does he need to reveal himself? And if he is indeed knowable, what impact would this have on our lives?

Why God needs to reveal himself

Many philosophers throughout the years believed that it was not even possible for humans to know if God exists. The most famous philosopher to articulate this theory is perhaps Immanuel Kant, an influential German philosopher who wrote a groundbreaking work, The Critique of Pure Reason, in 1787.[1] In his work, he asserted that we could not know that metaphysical entities (like God, the soul, and free will) exist, because we do not have direct sensory experience of them in our lives. He believed that was this linked to the limits of our cognitive ability and the nature of our first-person perspective.

Kant’s argument sounds very complex, but upon further exploration, we will see that it is a simple argument with a lot of intuitive force. Kant is articulating an observation that most of us share in the Western world (except for a small few who claim differently), which is that if God exists, we do not sense him as a physical, perceivable force in our everyday lives. Even if someone is Christian, they typically do not wake up to see a figure of God smiling down at them while he opens the window curtains. Furthermore, though many people would desire a physical experience of God, it seems that doing so is impossible for human capabilities; simply trying to will such an experience into actuality is ineffective.

An implication of Kant’s argument is that if God is real and wants humans to know about him, he would need to reveal himself somehow, rather than us eliciting an experience which seems to be beyond our capacity. In other words, God needs to show people he exists by revealing himself in a way that was somewhat discernible to the physical senses.

Despite this lack of physical experience of God, Christianity paradoxically claims that a relationship of personal intimacy with God is possible for humans; but with such a lack of physical experience of God, how is it possible for us to know him intimately?

The Knowledge of God

The Bible indicates that the implication of Kant’s argument is true: without God’s self-revelation in the physical experience of humans, our knowledge of him is insufficient. It affirms that God has put evidences throughout his creation that point us to his existence; however, the consensus of modern philosophy is that the apparent design, organization, and fine tuning of the universe does not necessarily entail a creator being. Nonetheless, the writers of the compilated books of the Bible assert that God has designed the universe in addition to manifesting himself within it so that people may have justification for believing in him. This is why throughout the Bible, there is a unified purpose of relaying what is considered revelation from God rather than imagination from humans.

Several instances in the Bible demonstrate this emphasis, such as when the prophet Elijah told the people of Israel to trust only the prophets who could provide a supernatural deed to evidence their claims. Since only God could enable humans to perform the supernatural, the prophets who could perform such acts would be discernible as representatives of the true God. In another case, the apostle Paul explains the need for missionaries by saying “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” [2] He was implying that unreached people groups would not know God truthfully unless they were told about him by Christians whom God had already revealed himself to. Lastly, when Jesus, who claimed to be God in human form, responded to the Jews who would not believe him, he said “the works I do in my father’s name testify on my behalf.”[3] He defended himself against his critics by pointing to the miracles that he was performing which only God could do, like healing the sick with a touch and calming storms with a word. His point was that God was revealing himself to the world through Jesus, as evidenced by the physical manifestation of supernatural occurrences.

Like Kant, we reasonably ask, how can we know that a metaphysical person exists if he or she does not show themselves to us? The Bible affirms that God has indeed shown himself in various ways: miracles, prophecies, and physical incarnation, the most potent of all being that of Jesus Christ.

How to cultivate the relationship

Thus, if the Bible is truly God’s revelation to mankind, a relationship with him is possible and eminently desirable. There are many practical ways by which we can know God better, and countless books have been written on the topic (I highly recommend Knowing God by J.I. Packer). Two of the most important daily habits one can develop is reading and studying the Bible along with praying.

Most importantly, the foundation of a relationship with God is the acceptance of Jesus as one’s Lord and savior. This requires us to humble ourselves before God’s assessment of our spiritual condition, which is sin, and accept our need for his forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. God beckons lovingly to us with open arms, promising eternal life, joy, and lasting peace. It is as Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[4]


[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Immanuel Kant, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/

[2] This story can be found in 1 Kings 18.

[3] Romans 10:14 NIV

[4] Matthew 11:28, NIV

One thought on “How a Christian Knows God

  1. Well written piece. The Bible seems to be the foundation for everything. If one is not willing to accept this foundational truth, then everything else w/ Christianity must be thrown out as well

    Like

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