The Problem with Knowing About God but Not Knowing God

It was a horrible crime; a crime the riveted the attention of the good people in the State of New Mexico like few have. The mother of a beautiful little girl, Victoria, who was celebrating her 10th birthday conspired with her new boyfriend and her boyfriend's cousin to drug the little girl with methamphetamine so that the boyfriend and his female cousin could sexually abuse the young child without her resisting. At the end of the sexual abuse, they compounded their evil by killing the little girl by both strangling and stabbing her multiple times. They then dismembered this beautiful, innocent child, put her dismembered body in a bathtub, and set it on fire. Victoria's mother – the woman who society instinctively understands bore the responsibility to care for this nine-year-old girl – stood by and watched while the boyfriend and his cousin engaged in these terrible actions.

Not surprisingly, the front page of the local paper has been obsessed with the event. Interviews, prayer vigils, arraignments and cries of sorrow have all appeared above the fold. A few days after the murder, the front page carried more information about Victoria's mother. The reporter had tracked down the mother's Facebook page which carried religious themes. 

Her Facebook page instead is dominated by religious pictures and the sayings she adopted, such as, "make God your first priority, not your last resort.""When I am weak, my God is strong," says another saying she posted.There are more religious devotional messages then there are photos of her children.One of her posts shows a questionnaire about her relationship status, with boxes for "in a relationship" and "single." [Victoria's mother] checked the third option. "I'm in a relationship with God."

We live in a fallen world. Most of the time, we are able to ignore the evil around us because the evil is usually minor and does not effect us directly. But occasionally, the evil that humanity carries deep in its collective soul bares its full ugliness to the universe. The killing of this precious little girl stunned and shocked the community. It should sadden every human being. It was an intolerable act by the mother, her boyfriend and her boyfriend's cousin, each and every one which should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Yet, this same mother who participated in an act of unparalleled cruelty associates herself with God through her Facebook page. How does that happen?

And it doesn't just happen with truly brazen acts of evil, but the lesser evils in our life are quite often committed by those who claim to be walking with Christ but who act in a manner which is inconsistent with living the biblical life. Another story that did not make the news involves a friend of mine who I will call Marty. Marty is a former criminal/ConMan who has a gambling addiction and who has spent time in prison for stealing thousands of dollars to feed his addiction. About six years ago, he found Jesus Christ, and has since turned his life largely around. He has turned his life over to Christ, and now works tirelessly to help educate other gamblers on the importance of surrendering to God as the means of beating their own addictions. He is a very different man today than six years ago. However, simply because God has forgiven Marty does not mean others have done the same. He is presently involved in a divorce proceeding initiated by his wife of almost 30 years. His wife, who I will call Doris, was raised Catholic and calls herself a Christian. Yet, despite his efforts to turn his life around, and despite biblical passages discouraging divorce, she is the one pressing forward with the divorce which threatens to leave him homeless.

Of course, I don't know everything that has happened in their marriage, and perhaps there is more to their story than I know. Too often, people who present positive faces to the world go to the hidden sanctuary of the homes and engage in vile acts with each other - treating each other not with the love of God but with the brutality of man. But if the situation is as I understand and as it appears, what Doris is doing is not even close to being a loving attitude towards Marty, and does not begin to demonstrate the reconciling attitude that God seeks. If Doris were truly walking with God, she would not be so persistent in seeking a divorce against a man who, while not perfect (and who will never be perfect on this side of the veil), is working hard to turn his life around. 

Both Victoria's mother and Doris are people who know about God but who do not know God. Perhaps they were raised in the church (Doris definitely has been). Perhaps they keep religious keepsakes around the home with pithy sayings about God and His love and His help. Perhaps they have both, at one point in their lives, accepted God's offer of salvation. But that's where it ends. They accepted His salvation, but they did not accept His Lordship. Their actions reveal that they don't truly know Him.  

Charles Dickens once wrote a novella entitled The Chimes. In the story, Toby Veck (who is called Trotty Veck by those who know him best) is a courier who stands in the doorway of a church waiting for jobs. From spending hours in its protection waiting for the occasional courier job to come his way, Toby knows the church doorway very well, and the chimes in the tower are like old friends to whom he regularly talks. When the bells ring, he hears them talking to him, telling him things. But what I have always found most interesting about the story is that it appears that Toby has never entered the church. He is nearby the church, but he has not actually entered into the sanctuary. He is familiar with the building and can probably identify every crack in the mortar of the bricks in the entryway where he spends his time, but he would not recognize the chancel or the pews that the bricks and mortar protect. He has likely heard the parishioners singing hymns through the think walls and stained glass, but he has never been inside to see what they are singing about. He knows about the church, but he does not know the church because he has never really stepped inside.

To me, Victoria's mother and Doris - and countless other people who claim to know God but who live lives that don't reflect the love that God has for us - are like Toby. They know about God. They have perhaps been to church and may even attend church regularly. But to them, God is a large, comfortable teddy bear - someone to hug and who will lift their spirits when they are having a bad day. They can recite and believe in Facebook memes about God's love, but they have never, ever truly committed their lives to knowing and following God. They have not accepted God's Lordship.

Jesus made it very clear that following Him is not a half-hearted measure. Unlike some of our churches who want to bend the Gospel to attract unbelievers, Jesus told the people who were following him the price of truly following him: everything. 

 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:26-33, NASB)

God calls on total commitment from those who would claim to be His children. To truly be a disciple - to know God rather than merely know about God - requires that the person put everything secondary to him: relationships, possessions, even life itself. Those who don't and who bring shame on the name of God because of their evil actions while claiming the name of Christ bring disdain against God. I am sure that the acts of Victoria's mother - as discussed as they have been in the news - have brought disdain against God.  It is irreconcilable in my mind that someone who truly loves God could participate in such a terrible action – especially such a terrible action against her own child. But I'm sure that there are those – several of whom I have interacted with on the Internet – who are more than ready to connect up the evil committed by this mother with Christianity. It gives them ammunition to hate and blame God, and it gives them the opportunity to say that Christians are all hypocrites.

What's wrong with knowing about God but not knowing God? Well, if the person carries the trappings of Christianity while not living a truly Christian life, they are repelling people from Christ. Sometimes, like Victoria's mother, it is on a grand scale, and sometimes, like Doris, it is on a small scale. But both harden people's hearts to who God really is and how much He truly cares for the whole world.


Jason Pratt said…
I think people can have been, and even still be, in a real Christian relationship with God, and still do super-evil things that require some major slapping down. GosMatt 7, and RevJohn 2, report Jesus describing people clearly working for God using miraculous power provided by God, who know and care enough about the truth to test and discover false apostles and to give Jesus the double "Lord, Lord" reserved for God Most High -- but they still have something so crucial missing in their relationship with God, that Jesus says He will destroy them as having abandoned their first love and as being doers of injustice, and that He never even knew them.

If he removes the lampstands and cuts down the trees of such ultra-Christian people, to throw them into the fire, that should be much moreso a warning to the rest of us! -- being a Christian is not some kind of password club where, if we do and say enough of the right things, God will simply pass by the evil things we do, and settle for us only having a pretend or merely legal righteousness (despite the idea popularly promoted of what an "imputed" righteousness means).

All that having been said, sometimes people are sick and crazy, too, and do things because their sickness impels them. That doesn't mean we should accept what they do, and they still have to be stopped (maybe fatally stopped), but it does mean the true situation could be something largely (or entirely?) resolved by God's healing (directly or with the help of cooperating creatures) sooner or later.

That having been said: people can be both evil and sick, too. The conditions aren't mutually exclusive, and healing one won't necessarily solve the other problem. As with Lewis' moral dictum (borrowed and rephrased from MacDonald if I recall correctly): what can be excused will be excused, and what can be healed will be healed, but what's left over still must be repented and forgiven.

And so far as it isn't, into the eons of the eons...

Jason Pratt said…
(Accidentally left off the shift-cap for "If He removes the lampstands...", sorry. {g} Since I typically have reasons for including or leaving off the divine pronoun signal, I wanted to clarify this was an accident.)

Terrible sickening tragedy. Really extreme example of having the right words and no understanding of what they mean.
This comment has been removed by the author.
that is an example of the "terrible sublime." sublime means it outstrips our framework of possibility. not everything sublime is nice. Like 9/11 some sublimity is horrible, beyond words.
Jason Pratt said…
I'd say the sublime represents our recognition of something beyond our capability to fully comprehend. That could include outstripping our framework of possibility, but goes beyond merely that limitation. (Conceptual pun intended.)

So for example, I don't think this atrocity or 9/11 necessarily outstrips our framework of possibility. But the sublime horror of it is beyond our full comprehension anyway, even if it isn't a Lovecraftian sublime horror.

Good thought, though: such things are even worse by a perverse sublimity.


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