I have just finished reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer. It has blessed me more than I can aptly describe. As I sit to share my thoughts, however, I am aware that the points brought out in the pages of this book go against much of the teaching I received. Because of that, I feel sure that few, if any, of my Christian-Baptist friends will read this book. I grew up being taught that if it wasn’t written by a Baptist, then it was inaccurate; if it quoted anything but the KJV, then it was of the devil. Such foolish thinking, and let me say, so very hard to change. Going against the grain of legalistic believers, most of whom I love with all my heart, has the been the greatest challenge to which God has called me. And yes, it has to be God Who has broken the stronghold of my own will, my own thoughts, and my own ideas. Until the Lord shattered my world with His own Word, I was following in lock-step with the very ones from whom I now depart. I can say sincerely that I am thankful for having been raised with a respect for God and the Bible, and I am comforted that God has used all of my life experiences to mold me according to His plan. His sovereignty over my life brings me immeasurable comfort.
If your past (or present) is like my past, I doubt you will want to this book, and yet, you are the one who will be blessed the most by it. It will draw you closer to God, or reveal to you that in fact, you do not even know Him at all. It will convict you, encourage you, and maybe even astound you.
It is divided as follows:
Know the Lord
- The Study of God
- The People who Know their God
- Knowing and Being Known
- The Only True God
- God Incarnate
- He Shall Testify
This first section takes you on a theological journey of sorts as you become familiar with the God of the Bible. The most gripping comment which I noted from this section was from page 42. Packer is discussing how mankind tries to think of God: “At best, they can only think of God in the image of man – as an ideal man, perhaps, or a super-man. But God is not any sort of man. We were made in His image, but we must not think of Him as existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of Him, not to know Him.” These words were shocking to me. Let’s be honest, no one wants to believe that God is not like man. After all, if God is not like us, then we are quite wrong on many fronts, especially those relating to ministry. I was taught (intentionally or not, I do not know, but nevertheless, this was my perception) to view the pastor as a demigod: If I upset or displeased the pastor, then I was likewise displeasing God. As I now try to free myself from this false thinking, I find myself almost leaping too far the other way. I willingly attest that, in most cases, this proves harmless. But in its extreme, it can wreck lives. For an example, please notice First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, and Hyles-Anderson College, following the accusations of the infidelity of pastor Jack Hyles, and the immoral and illegal behavior of his son-in-law and successor, Jack Schaap. Many blindly followed these leaders, and ignored their sinful actions, believing them to be in “God’s stead”. This led to great harm and loss.
Packer continues: “All images of God, whether molten or mental, are really borrowings from the stock-in-trade of a sinful and ungodly world, and are bound therefore to be out of accord with God’s own holy Word. To make an image of God is to take one’s thoughts of Him from a human source, rather than from God himself; and this is precisely what is wrong with image-making.” (p.44)
Behold Your God!
- God Unchanging
- The Majesty of God
- God Only Wise
- God’s Wisdom and Ours
- They Word is Truth
- The Love of God
- The Grace of God
- God the Judge
- The Wrath of God
- Goodness and Severity
- The Jealous God
This is a fascinating section as you can see by the chapter titles. In “God Unchanging”, I was instructed greatly. I had always thought that when the Bible said, “The Lord repented…”, it meant God changed His mind. But this goes against the attribute of God’s immutability. Packer explains these texts: “The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular men, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise, and was not provided for in His eternal plan. No change in His eternal purpose is implied when He begins to deal with a man in a new way.” (p. 72) Without understanding that God is not like man, we cannot understand these passages. God is eternal – He is in eternity, above time completely! Packer comments, “Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are – weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic. But this is not the God of the Bible!” (p. 74)
In “God’s Wisdom and Ours”, Packer makes this point: “This comforting pretence becomes part of us: we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all His ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take it for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future. And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted.” (p. 95)
There is far more to add from this section, especially from the chapters about the grace of God and the wrath of God, but I would like to leave some treasures for you to discover, should you decide to study this wonderful book.
If God Be For Us…
- The Heart of the Gospel
- Sons of God
- Thou our Guide
- These Inward Trials
- The Adequacy of God
The chapter about the gospel shows that one cannot understand the Bible at all without understanding the Gospel. He emphasizes “propitiation” in this chapter, and explains it so clearly. He also encourages the reader to sit down and read through the book of Mark in one sitting. In “Sons of God”, Mr. Packer begins with this: “What is a Christian?” and spends the time answering just that. What a journey! He points out that we are adopted by God. But not the Santa Claus god that the world has imagined, but the Holy, wonderful, all-powerful God of the Bible! He says, “…were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be ‘adoption through propitiation’, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” (p.194)
Page 207 contains the secret to the Christian life – but I’ll let you read that for yourself.
And there is so much more. I have high-lighted and meditated on more passages than I can share here, and I shall try to go back through this book again, for I am certain it can be mined many times and great riches uncovered.
Even to the unsaved, or the one who believes he is saved by works, this book is most valuable. Mr. Packer asks more than once, “Do you know God? Are you His child?”
This book is replete with biblical passages and profound preaching, and yet written in a smooth style.
Knowing God is guaranteed to change or encourage you. Or both.