Do you know me, O God?

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We had a fantastic faculty retreat here at the seminary recently, and I took copious notes. So know they will be bleeding into my blog now and again. Let me start with a teaser.

The retreat master was talking with us about prayer — a good retreat topic — and addressing the question of what constitutes a healthy and full prayer life as a Christian. He said something like this (as I furiously jotted down his insights in my notebook):

Prayer is really at core about fostering an intimate exchange between each person and God. It’s heart speaking to heart, a shared exchange of personal knowledge. Prayer is to know God and to allow oneself to be known by God. The first part we as priests can be really good at. We study, think, reflect and gain all kinds of relevant God-data. We can say we really know who God is. We know all about him and are experts who can speak eloquently and movingly about God and his ways. But can we really say that we really know God or that God really knows us? We might retort in regard to that second point: “God is omniscient! Of course God knows me. It’s a given.” Yes, yes. But is that it, really? Think about it. If I meet someone who’s never really spoken to me before, hasn’t told me about themselves or asked me personally anything about myself, or even shown any interest in really getting to know the living and breathing me; and suddenly they walk up to me and tell me they know me, know everything about me — and start sharing with me intimate details from my life. Well, I’m going to get creeped out. That’s creepy, right? But you see, Jesus isn’t a creep. He invites us to reveal ourselves to him in prayer, to share our hearts and minds and desires and frustrations. Everything. And he wants to do the same, and waits to see if we are interested. If you were God, how interested would you really look in what God had to say? How carefully, attentively, lovingly do you listen for his voice? And let me say, ask yourself this: If all God knew about you was what you shared with him in prayer, how well would he really know you? If you can’t say that God knows you — based on your self disclosure — at least as much as the person in your life who knows you best, then your prayer life is seriously deficient. Using divine omniscience to excuse ourselves from opening up to God, pouring out our hearts to him and speaking to him about all things, great and small, is a misuse of our theology of divine omniscience. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, but if we keep the door shut and locked, and sit curled up with our theology book on the couch as we bear our soul’s deepest secrets to a friend…well, Jesus may say, when we meet him one day: “I don’t know you.”

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8 comments on “Do you know me, O God?

  1. nos. says:

    “””If all GOD knew about you was what you shared with him in prayer,how well would he really know you.”””based on this line he knows me, the nos. not at all. Like the taking of THE HOLY THREES omniscience in knowing me for granted Thomas you have helped me realize that just saying “””JESUS have mercy on me a sinner””” isn’t really an honest examination of conscience during the course of one’s day or at night before I sleep. Hello LORD it’s your nos. I hope you have all your pencils sharpened and sheaves of note paper cause I’m a blabber mouth and I have much to tell you love your nos.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I am scratching my head here. I am sorry but I just can’t wrap my head around this. NOS, thank you for your comment on the examination of conscience. that helps I think…if we don’t take time to really think about our inner most fears and failings, I get how you could ask does God really know us. I guess my biggest “huh?” comes with the comment about bearing your soul’s deepest secrets to your best friend. Uh…if you can do that and speak this deep secret, then isn’t God witness to that? Especially if your friend is a Christian? Where two or three are gathered in my name? Are you saying if you wouldn’t dare to admit it in confession are you really admitting it to God? I can accept that. Are you saying if your outward life is in total disaccord with your faith then does God really know you? If I am thinking about these things throughout the day am I not telling them to God , do they not count because they aren’t during my time set-aside for prayer? Aren’t we always talking to God whenever we are thinking? What is thinking that God hears and thinking that he does not hear? i can understand and certainly recognize many times when I was not thinking of Him and didn’t know Him or care to know Him and was blissfully ignorant or tried to twist what I knew of Him to suit me…is THAT what this means? I guess I just can’t wrap my head around God not really knowing me. I mean, in the Bible we have God creating us and knowing our innermost being even in our Mother’s womb, but then we also have Jesus talking about the final judgement and saying “Get away from me, I never knew you” but that was to people who did not treat the least of his brethren the way they ought to have treated him. No small order, to be sure, but I don’t think that this is the same thing. Maybe I have to wait for the sequel to this post and/or your return to commenting. In the meantime, if anyone else can help me out here, I’d be very grateful. thx

    • Ha! Well, you and nos drew me out. How can I not respond? Let me be brief. I left the piece uninterpreted by me on purpose, to allow it to muss up people’s thinking about prayer. The retreat director acknowledged the raw theological truth (“Yes, yes”): God does know all things, every secret of the heart, every confidence shared, every hair on our head. Yes! This is our faith. But, there is a difference between knowing A and knowing B (as I will call them). Knowing A is knowing data about another, knowledge of facts about someone. Knowing B is knowing someone in a personal, intentional way that opens itself to union, intimacy, friendship, communion. Knowing B emerges from one person’s free choice to reveal themselves (the “heart”) in trust and love to another. In Hebrew the word “yada” gets at this: “Adam knew [yada] Eve and she conceived…” The retreat director was making this point about prayer. Why do we reveal thoughts, aspirations, pains, joys, etc. to God in prayer? Because it’s good for us to do that to make us feel better? Well, yes. Or so we can receive what we are asking for? Yes. But there is another element of prayer that is at work when we reveal to God our inner world, and it’s non-utilitarian. It’s that self-revelation in prayer, the pouring out of the heart and speaking to God as to a friend (as St Teresa of Jesus defines prayer) that allows God “in” on our world, a world which he will not enter in love without our permission (as in “I stand at the door and knock”). The more we reveal to God of ourselves, the more intimately we are united to him; and vice versa. I can study data about God until I am blue in the face, but until I make an intentional act of faith in prayer that allows that data to become communion in knowledge with the One known, it remains just cerebral facticity. There’s a great story in St Faustina’s Diary where Jesus gently chides her for not sharing with him the details of her day. She wonders why he would be interested, and he says: “Tell me about everything, be sincere in dealing with me, reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them …” God can only enter us as deeply as we have permitted him to, and prayer is, at heart, consent for God to enter everything. A last thought. I remember many times my children coming excitedly to teach me about something they learned, something I already knew very well. But the times when I set myself aside and allowed myself to “re-learn” this or that piece of information from them, as they spoke energetically and excitedly, I found myself more in love with them, closer to them, and I also realized again and again that they always DID teach me something new, no matter how well I knew what they were speaking about. What did I learn? That knowledge joined to the love of my child is far more beautiful than any piece of cold, naked knowledge, and that in the final analysis, knowledge is for love. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1).
      The core issue the retreat director was getting at was that often prayer operates under the assumption that because of divine omniscience, we do not need to reveal things to God because he already knows — so it seems redundant. Yet, a massive part of our spiritual tradition in Christianity counsels us to pour out our hearts to God, make known to God the minutest details of our life. Because God is not just infinite Being, or “Thought thinking itself,” but is love that reveals itself to man (“I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15)), prayer moves man, who is called to union with God, to reciprocate by freely revealing “everything” of themselves to him.
      And yes, of course the “I don’t know you” line comes from failing to serve Christ in others. He was merely adapting its context to fit this point.
      I am glad you asked, analyzed and posed these great questions, JF.
      Hope that helps some.
      Pax

  3. DismasDancing says:

    “I remember many times my children coming excitedly to teach me about something they learned, something I already knew very well. But the times when I set myself aside and allowed myself to “re-learn” this or that piece of information from them, as they spoke energetically and excitedly, I found myself more in love with them, closer to them, and I also realized again and again that they always DID teach me something new, no matter how well I knew what they were speaking about. What did I learn? That knowledge joined to the love of my child is far more beautiful than any piece of cold, naked knowledge, and that in the final analysis, knowledge is for love.”

    With apologies to you, brother Tom, I thank n.o.s. and Jen for “drawing” you out for a moment to offer, perhaps, the simplest, yet most comprehensive, warm, and heartfelt analogy for the “why?” of prayer to an omniscient God I think I have ever read. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole therein; but, for me at least, one of the reasons your following is as long and loyal as it is, is your innate ability to simplify some of the most complex theological issues in a K.I.S.S. manner. Your responses to n.o.s and to Jen, especially, made that happen, not simply as the proverbial “light came on”, but as a bolt of lightning suddenly and frightfully piercing the sheer, black, night of previous ignorance, illuminating my long-time clouded path. Today, I am that child hit with that “cold, naked knowledge…” that my Daddy really pines for an “eagerness” in getting to know each other, that that beautiful eagerness, for me, and for so long, has been mostly a one-way process–toward me, NOT the other way around. And that, indeed, saddens me deeply.

    For, indeed, how beautiful it is when we parents see the initial twinklings of knowledge in the eyes of our kids when they first encounter a previously unknown phenomenon, create a finger-painting in love, share a multi-hued autumn leaf…ah! the list could go on from the memory bank of endless beautiful treasures stored up by my children therein. I can readily close my eyes and see “Abba”, “Daddy”, doing that when, IF, I but come to him as a child and excitedly share with Him the “ALL”, warts and everything, of my daily routine. WOW! As I strive to hold back the tears of new “awareness” and deal with a constricted throat as I imagine this magnificent ABBA really wanting me to come to Him in that way–just as He told St Faustina, I grieve for so much lost time.

    Oh!, Lord, please let me run to you, run wildly to You with all of my heart and all of my energy, shouting all the while, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, look…!”, holding aloft in my hand and excitedly waving the notebook paper that has been my life this day. May there be always gold stars thereupon. And, when there are not, please hold me anyway, love me anyway, scold me gently, take me by Your strong hand and lead me to the right path, so that the tears I often cause when I disappoint, quickly turn to the tears of joy I so love to see when I please You.

    Thanks Bro Tom, n.o.s., and Jen for your wisdom and faith. May God bless each of you in very special ways for your comments, this day especially. Having felt your loving taps of “awareness” on my face, I can only respond to you AND to our Good Lord, “Thanks, I needed that!” God’s love and peace to all.

    DD

    • In the words of Genesis 45:1: “Joseph could no longer control himself.” You all make my silence impossible! Blessedly so. This, DD, proves yet again that the divine science can only be done, in the final analysis, in a community of dialogue in faith…and never in isolation. We truly “draw each other out” and there find our equally excited Abba! caught up in our ebullient exchanges, as your prayer beautifully illustrates. Thank you for putting your poetic pen to prose yet again, DD. Pax et bonum semper! Dr. T Okay, I return into the silence….

      • DismasDancing says:

        Thanks, good sir, for a beautiful response I did not expect. May your silence be enjoyed always in the presence of that Daddy who so loves us all. I cannot tell you how much today’s comments have drawn me toward a very real understanding of that Father. And with your spirit, my beloved Professor!

  4. AMDG says:

    And what a faith community this!
    Thank you all.

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