Recent days and thoughts have brought me to the conclusion that what we require is not so much to see God, as to be seen by God. The most frightful words in all of Scripture are, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” To not be known, it seems to me, is tantamount to having never existed.
The Christian quest to see God would be bizarre if it were removed from this desire to be seen by God, to be known of Him. In a world driven by the acquistion of information, we can easily mutate “knowing God” into nothing more than one more piece of information. For us, we seek to know things in a manner that involves a sort of mastery. We know them that we might manage them, manipulate them, use them.
There is a different kind of knowing. There is a knowing that is sheer gift. It is something that we often find in intimacy (a very rare thing in our world). The things learned in intimacy become abusive when they are used for managing or manipulation. Such gifts can only be loved, or, perhaps, held in awe.
That God knows us (we wrongly imagine) simply comes with the territory of being God. “God knows everything,” we say, and assume that He should therefore be able to manage everything and run the universe in a way that is pleasing to Him. This, I suspect, is what we ourselves would do were we to suddenly become a god.
God, however, loves the universe. What He knows, He loves. We are not the objects of His management, objects for manipulation. Rather, God holds us in a form of awe and wonder. In the creation story of Genesis, we hear evidence of this knowledge.
“God saw everything He had created, and, behold, it was very good.”
Again, we mistake this for being a way of saying, “God liked what He had done.” The world is created in such a way that God Himself holds it in wonder and awe. He sees not only its goodness, but its very goodness. This is more than mere knowledge and utterly transcends knowledge-as-information. This is knowledge of the most intimate possible meaning.
The modern world suffers from a crisis of loneliness we are told. I believe that much of that crisis is simply the by-product of an information society. The economy (whatever that is) knows pretty much everything about us. It is carefully mined from every action we take in the electronic world. That data is mined, stored, and sold. This is not only true, it is more true every day. But all of that information is the opposite of intimacy. Whoever possesses that information does not know you – though they could easily use it to destroy you. The information is dangerous precisely because those who possess it do not love you.
God has no desire to gather information about us. I’m not certain that God knows anything in a manner that could be described as information. God knows us as He knew Simon Peter. He could predict Simon’s denials while reassuring him that he was being prayed for (and preserved). Perhaps those words of reassurance are the very thing that saved him in the end. God knows us as He knew the Woman at the Well (John 4). He Himself was thirsty, but He knew her thirst (living water).
The crisis of our loneliness is, I think, two-fold. It is the lack of intimacy on the one hand (surrounded by information gatherers). It is also a crisis of vulnerability (humility) in which we fear to be known, for ever-so-many reasons. Intimacy is something of a dance. It requires a gift, for the knowledge that comes from love can only be made available freely and as a gift. The gift requires love in order to be received. For what can be known in intimacy can only be known through love. It dissipates in the hands of anything else.
St. Paul, summarizing his amazing 13th chapter from his first Corinthian letter (the chapter of love), says this:
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Cor. 13:12
I found this poem today, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Like most of his work, it burst into my mind and gave light. It’s worth sharing.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.