I drove by a church readerboard last week that said,
To know God is to love God.
Simple enough, right? A little pithy. Maybe too simple, but memorable. Initially, I didn’t think much of the philosophical/theological/epistemological statement. In a sense, it’s absolutely true. You can’t love something, or more specifically someone, you don’t know. Yet, I couldn’t shake the question of whether it was foundationally true.
The statement “to know God is to love God” seems to be seeking salvation through contemplation at its core, which creates a problem. With knowledge as the driving force, we begin to rely more heavily on our own ingenuity in order to find new depths of God in our connection with Him.
History teaches us that this line of understanding is nothing new. In the early years of the Christian faith, Augustine and Pelagius had a complex disagreement over whether we were capable of choosing good without divine assistance. Pelagianism, as it came to be known, was denounced as heresy. We are dependent on God for choosing good became the accepted stance, as Augustine had argued.
But even this stemmed from Plato’s philosophy that the most foundational aspect of life is abstract ideas, separate from the physical world. By distinguishing between the philosophical and physical, it’s easy to see how Plato could lead to Pelagius; ideas allow for goodness apart from God’s aid. N.T. Wright connects these dots in saying,
“Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies.”
If knowledge is the foundational component to loving God, Wright says we end up with an escapist mentality, where spirituality moves away from the material. In the end, our physical lives on earth have little importance. With that background, now it comes more clearly into view why knowing God is not the foundational aspect for loving God. He is not merely an idea we can approach by escaping our current realities. No, God came to us.
What we truly long for is not just to know God, but to know the God who sought to know us. God is not an abstract idea that we can mentally ascend toward, God became one of us.
It could be said that what you believe about God is the most foundational thing about you. If you believe that you must know God more in order to love Him more, you’ll put the pressure on yourself to create this newfound depth. But I believe this misunderstands God. We can and should seek to know God intimately, but this is only possible because God allowed Himself to be known.
Who is God? God is love, and because of this He is also the source of all love. He has given us the command that we love Him with all our hearts, but He knows that this orientation to love Him can never originate with us. We love him, because he first loved us.
Loving God comes from knowing the God who made Himself known through His sacrificial love.