J. I. Packer – Knowing God: 50th Anniversary Edition [Excerpt]

What were we made for?

An Excerpt Adapted from the 50th Anniversary Edition:

Knowing God
J. I. Packer

Paperback: IVP, 2023.
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What were we made for? 

To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” ( Jn 17:3). 

What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me’” ( Jer 9:23-24). 

What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. “I desired . . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” says God (Hos 6:6 KJV). 

In these few sentences we have said a very great deal. Our point is one to which every Christian heart will warm, though the person whose religion is merely formal will not be moved by it. (And by this very fact his unregenerate state may be known.) What we have said provides at once a foundation, shape and goal for our lives, plus a principle of priorities and a scale of values. 

Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord. The world today is full of sufferers from the wasting disease which Albert Camus focused as absurdism (“life is a bad joke”), and from the complaint which we may call Marie Antoinette’s fever, since she found the phrase that describes it (“nothing tastes”). These disorders blight the whole of life: everything becomes at once a problem and a bore, because nothing seems worthwhile. But absurdist tapeworms and Antoinette’s fever are ills from which, in the nature of the case, Christians are immune, except for occasional spells of derangement when the power of temptation presses their minds out of shape—and these, by God’s mercy, do not last.

IVP - Nourishing Narratives

What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God? 

From another standpoint, however, we have not as yet said very much. When we speak of knowing God, we are using a verbal formula, and formulas are like checks; they are no good unless we know how to cash them. What are we talking about when we use the phrase knowing God? A special sort of emotion? Shivers down the back? A dreamy, off-the-ground, floating feeling? Tingling thrills and exhilaration, such as drug takers seek? Or is knowing God a special sort of intellectual experience? Does one hear a voice? see a vision? find strange trains of thought coursing through one’s mind? or what? These matters need discussing, especially since, according to Scripture, this is a region in which it is easy to be fooled, and to think you know God when you do not. We pose the question, then: what sort of activity, or event, is it that can properly be described as “knowing God”?

Adapted from Knowing God: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition by J. I. Packer. ©1973 by J. I. Packer. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com. 

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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