The Two Ways of Knowing God
I believe there are two types of knowledge that we can have, intellectual and experiential.
In 2011, the grace of God made me acutely aware of what living my life on my own apart from Him would lead me. I was in college at the time and realized that over the last nineteen years of my life I had learned a lot about God but my knowledge of Him personally was limited. It was at this time that I started to grow in my relationship with Jesus from a place of knowing Him for His heart, thoughts, and feelings and not just about Him from the stories.
Intellectual knowledge is what we have when we know the facts about someone or something. For example, I can say that I know George Washington in that I know about his life and what he accomplished in his life. However, I have no experiential knowledge of George Washington in that I don’t really know anything about his feelings, personality or values. So really I just know of George Washington I do not truly know him.
In the same way, we can know George Washington we can also know Christ. We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of the virgin Mary. We know that He spent the later years of His life closely with twelve disciples and that He went around preaching the truth and healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons. We know that Jesus died on a cross and rose again three days later. We can even know that Jesus is Faithful and True and that He is a provider by His names and the way He is described. These are things that we can read in Scripture and know.
Experiential knowledge is gained by being with someone and talking to them, hearing their thoughts, views and opinions and doing life with them. With God, our knowledge needs to be both intellectual and experiential. Similar, to the relationship I have with my wife we started off dating each other and learning the intellectual information about each other like where we grew up, what our parents did for a living, where we went to school, etc. As we continued to date and spend time together we began to know more about the feelings and desires that each of us had and that led to us having experiences together. Now I can say that I more than know of my wife but I truly know her because I know her tendencies, her feelings, and thoughts based on my experiences with her.
Equally, as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus I have begun to know Him and not just of Him. I know that Jesus is faithful because He has been faithful to love me and to guide me. I know that He is a Shepherd because He leads and cares for me. I know that He is a provider because I have seen His provision in miraculous ways. I have been in prayer and heard His voice and He has shared His heart with me. My knowledge of God is not merely limited to what I know of Him through Scripture but I know Him truly.
Intellectual knowledge will always feed experiential knowledge and experiential knowledge will lead to an understanding of the intellectual knowledge. I know that God is a provider because His word says that He is and because of that I prayed and asked Him to provided for me. I know He is a provider because when I have asked for His provision He has provided. I have experienced His provision and, therefore, my intellectual knowledge of God led to experiential knowledge.
In our lives as Christians, it is so important for us to value both types of knowledge. If we only know about God intellectually we will have missed out on the very reason Jesus died – so that we might know the Father (Jn. 17:3). If we only know about God experientially we can easily be led astray without knowing the Word. A healthy relationship will be one that has firm foundations in both intellectual and experiential knowledge.
Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 He says that eternal life is knowing God. I believe that the greatest privilege that we have as believers are that we get to know God, know who He is, know His heart and ultimately know His love. So with everything you have known Him, He is worth all thy getting.