If you’ve poked around my website much, you know that I place a high value on knowing God through the experience of being known by him. My last two posts about Nathanael have as their take away the reality – the TRUTH! – of our being able to be seen and known and loved by Jesus. The opening lines of my homepage have in their description: “We can live fully, knowing the One we were created to know and finding ourselves deeply known – and loved – by Him.” Obviously, this truth matters to me.
What can be better?
This stubborn belief of mine that it’s possible to know God and be known by God – in Christianese, “have a relationship with him” – comes from a communion I’ve known in my insides with him since before I could even talk (okay, I can’t remember that far back, but it sure feels as if it’s true!). Jesus has almost always been as close as breathing to me, the one before, behind, above, below, within, the one with me at all times and in every place. No matter the choices I make, or the doubt I face, there’s this breath within me, this Spirit compelling my own spirit into a communion and oneness so deep, so real, so tangible that I absolutely cannot doubt (long term) that he is here.
The force that permeates the universe, the energy that holds us together, the source of all our moral and ethical instincts, and the actual Being who is above and within it all, I know to be Jesus. I know him to be God. I know him to be Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Savior, Spirit. I know him to be Love.
Knowing by experience
And largely, I know him to be these things because this is how I experience him. I believe he is these things, the actual God of gods as Scriptures say, because in my own heart and mind and spirit I have felt deeply, deeply, deeply known by him. I have felt rescued, saved, known and totally embraced. I have felt liked and enjoyed and intimately loved. I have felt him wipe my shame away.
But I don’t feel him this way all the time. There is darkness sometimes, and there is battle for my faith and mind. There is a sense of being completely alone that sometimes stops me in my steps. These negative experiences of God are parts of my journey much the way shadows are part of any mountain trail. Though I’m an emotionally-connecting person, mystical to the core, even my own mystical, optimistic soul can feel as if he is no longer here.
The feeling of an absent God
Not everyone has as their very deepest belief a sense of being deeply known, totally accepted, desired, and loved by God. And while I believe the healing work that Jesus does in our souls is to redeem us both in the eternal sense AND in the most broken places of our hearts here and now, our feelings do not always reflect this truth.
Such dichotomy between our feelings/experiences and the truth promised us in the Person of Jesus are achingly real. Maybe we misunderstand concepts of Truth and Grace. Maybe we struggle with belief because our faith is hurting, the world is hurting, and our minds are hurting. Maybe broken lives and broken promises and broken hearts make us unable to even dare hope that God might actually see who we are. Or maybe we believe he sees us but cannot believe he accepts, and knows and loves and likes what he sees.
I don’t know.
I only know that I have sat with Nathanael and Jesus for almost six months now in a six-verse passage in the book of John. I’ve sat riveted by this (very humbling) truth:
Our sense of being seen and known by God is important, but so far as faith is concerned, there is something even greater than this.
Do you hear me?
There is something even more incredible than the experience of communion with him.
There is something, a source, that makes such experience and communion wonderful in the first place.
There is Someone greater. And that Someone Greater is Jesus himself.
This is so obvious that I think we can often overlook the fact of it, take it for granted and focus instead on our end of our experiences: how we feel or don’t feel or wish we felt. We are near-sighted, and it’s as if Jesus says to Nathanael that a faith that shoots beyond our own experiences with Christ into the person of Christ alone, is the greater thing. Our experience exists at all because of who he is.
Here’s the passage:
Jesus answered him,
“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?
You will see greater things than these.”
And he said to him,
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened,
and the angels of God ascending
and descending on the Son of Man.”
Do you know what I see here? I see that when our experiences fail us, when our feelings betray us, when our minds trip us up, there is Someone who is beyond all of these things, who holds the whole of all of existence in his breath and love and word, and because HE IS, we believe. This is faith.
Even when it doesn’t feel like it can be real
Sometimes we feel him. And sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we are aware of experiencing him. And sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we find ourselves known by him. But sometimes we simply cannot dare to hope that we could be so belovedly known.
And here’s where the verse really hits home for me. It’s not a culturally appropriate thing to say, and my self-awareness chafes to say it, but I want you to hear this and understand:
A faith rooted in the revelation of Scripture anchors when a faith rooted in personal experience comes up short.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, and “these are the Scriptures that testify to who he is.”
What the Scriptures testify
When Jesus says that Nathanael will see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, he is referencing a prophetic vision had by Jacob in the book of Genesis. He is saying that he alone is the “stairway to Heaven,” the passage between us and God, the only “way, truth and life.”
But he is ALSO saying that something greater than Nathanael’s personal-experience-based faith is a faith rooted in the Person of Jesus as described in Scripture, a faith based on believing what the Scriptures say about God, a faith that will be confirmed as the prophecies in Scripture are fulfilled.
Sacred is such faith
There’s worship that rises in us when we look beyond ourselves to take in the splendor of who he is, and both Scripture and Experience cause us to do this. We are jewels falling into our setting when our hearts behold his glory. We shine and glow and know and are known and are our very best selves when being our very best selves almost ceases to matter at all. We are worshipping him, and we are at our best, because worshipers and adorers are who we are created to be.
Sacred is the faith that looks beyond itself and back again, to see the whole lay of the land. Sacred is the faith that is rooted and grounded in Jesus. Sacred is the faith that believes all of who Scripture says He is, and allows that He is even more wonderful than Scripture can convey. Sacred is the faith that is rooted in more than how it feels.
“You believe because I see you?” Jesus asks. “I do see you. But I’m about to do something even more wonderful: you will see Me.”
Is there something greater than being known by God?
Yes. It’s knowing HIM.
Such faith sees heaven open, and beholds the Son of Man.
A note on the phrase Son of Man: this is the first use of the term in John’s gospel, and it follows directly after Nathanael’s proclamation that Jesus is “the Son of God, the King of Israel.” So we see in one paragraph three of the primary titles of Jesus: Son of God, King of Israel, Son of Man – emphasizing his sovereignty in all ways, as well as his closeness in relationship to us. He is not just God or King, but is one of us, like sibling, like brother. He’s the ladder or stairway between us and heaven, in flesh rooted in our humanity and in spirit, forever God.
This is a Wednesday in the Word post, where bit by bit I am writing through the Gospel of John. See the whole series here.