Knowing God, Chapters 11 and 12: God’s Word and His Love

Knowing GodWe’re continuing to read Knowing God by J. I. Packer along with Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together Series. This week we are in chapters 11 and 12.

I believe chapter 11, Thy Word Is Truth, is one of the most important in the book, not because God’s Word is more important that His love or grace or the rest of His attributes we’ll be looking at, but because without His Word we wouldn’t know about the rest. At least, not as much. God’s Word is His revelation to us: as one pastor put it, it is divinely brief. It doesn’t tell us everything that ever happened or everything God is thinking or doing, but it does tell us what He most wants us to know about Himself and how He wants us to live.

God speaks to us through three different means in the Bible: law or instruction, promises, and testimony: “information give by God about Himself and people–their respective acts, purposes, nature, and prospects” (p. 110).

Though God is a great king, it is not his wish to live at a distance from his subjects, Rather the reverse: He made us with the intention that he and we might walk together forever in a love relationship. But such a relationship can only exist when the parties involved know something of each other…we can know nothing about Him [God] unless He tells us. Here, therefore, is a further reason why God speaks to us: not only to move us to do what He wants, but to enable us to know Him so that we may love Him. Therefore God sends His word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also calls us into personal communication with the loving Lord Himself (p. 110).

But the claim of the word of God upon us does not depend merely upon our relationship to him as creatures and subjects. We are to believe and obey it, not only because he tells us to, but also, and primarily, because it is a true word. Its author is “the God of truth” (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16), “abundant in … truth” (Exodus 34:6 KJV); his “truth reacheth unto the clouds” (Psalm 108:4 KJV; compare 57:10) – that is, it is universal and limitless. Therefore his “word is truth” (John 17:17). “All your words are true” (2 Samuel 7:28 RSV).

Truth in the Bible is a quality of persons primarily, and of propositions only secondarily. It means stability, reliability, firmness, trustworthiness, the quality of a person who is entirely self-consistent, sincere, realistic, undeceived. God is such a person: truth, in this sense, is his nature, and he has not got it in him to be anything else. That is why he cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 6:18). That is why his words to us are true, and cannot be other than true. They are the index of reality: they show us things as they really are, and as they will be for us in the future according to whether we heed God’s words to us or not (p. 113).

Chapter 12 discusses the wonderful truth of the love of God. Packer notes that a lot of false ideas have sprouted about what it means that “God is love” (1 John 4:5, 16), and we have to look at what God’s love is as revealed in His Word.

When Paul says, “ the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom 5:5 KJV), he means not love for God as Augustine thought, but knowledge of God’s love for us…Three points in Paul’s words deserve comment. First, notice the verb shed abroad. It means literally poured (or dumped) out. It is the word used of the “outpouring” of the Spirit himself in Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45; Titus 3:6. It suggests a free flow and a large quantity—in fact, an inundation. Hence the rendering of the NEB, “God’s love had flooded out inmost heart.” Paul is not talking of faint and fitful impressions, but of deep and overwhelming ones. Then, second, notice the tense verb. It is in the perfect, which implies a settled state consequent upon a completed action. The thought is that knowledge of the love of God, having flooded our hearts, fills them now, just as a valley once flooded remains full of water. Paul assumes that all his readers, like himself, will be living in the enjoyment of a strong and abiding sense of God’s love for them. Third, notice that the instilling of this knowledge is described as part of the regular ministry of the Spirit to those who receive him—to all, that is, who are born again, all who are true believers. One could wish that this aspect of his ministry was prized more highly than it is at the present time. With a perversity as pathetic as it is impoverishing, we have become preoccupied today with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal ministries of the Spirit to the neglect of the ordinary, general ones. Thus, we show a great deal more interest in the gifts of healing and tongues—gifts of which, as Paul pointed out, not all Christians are meant to partake anyway (1Cor. 12:28-30)—than in the Spirit’s ordinary work of giving peace, joy, hope and love, through shedding abroad in our hearts of knowledge of the love of God (p. 118).

God’s love does not contradict His holiness and justice:

“The God who is love is first and foremost light, and sentimental ideas of His love as an indulgent, benevolent softness, divorced from moral standards and concerns, must therefore be ruled out from the start. God’s love is a holy love. God…is not a God who is indifferent to moral distinctions, but a God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, a God whose ideal for His children is that they should “be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48) (p. 122).

This goes along with much of what C. S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain.

Packer describes or defines God’s love as follows: “God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified himself with their welfare, he has given his Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation” (p. 123), then he expands in each phrase individually, a wonderful section in which to meditate on how great and full His love is.

One of the things I like best about reading a book together with others is that they bring out different emphases or even bring out points I missed. See Lisa’s post about God’s love and Tim’s about the Holy Spirit’s ministry of shedding God’s love abroad in our hearts for different perspectives of these chapters. I’m only able to keep up with these two with an occasional glance at the Facebook group for this project, but it’s enlightening to see what others got out of the same reading.

3 thoughts on “Knowing God, Chapters 11 and 12: God’s Word and His Love

  1. I particularly loved that section, too, where Packer expanded on his definition of God’s love, phrase by phrase. Meaningful stuff. And I’m only consistently reading your posts and Challie’s also. 🙂 The Facebook group overwhelms me. ha. Only so much time.

  2. Pingback: Knowing God, Chapters 19 and 20: Adoption and Guidance | Stray Thoughts

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Knowing God | Stray Thoughts

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