Who knows Whom?
We often hear Christians say: «I came to know the Lord», «When I came to know the Lord...», «I wish I had known the Lord sooner...» etc., etc. This kind of language falls within the framework of a basic misconception in regard to who has the initiative in the matter of man's salvation. It shows how tightly bound man is with himself. It is indicative of the anthropocentric philosophy maintaining that «Man is the central fact and the final aim of the universe», the philosophical system of Protagoras, author of the famous saying: «Man is the measure of all things», which prevailed more or less over all mankind after the Fall. And it couldn't be otherwise since sin alienated man from his Creator.
However, the truth is just the opposite. Man became totally depraved so that even the desire to know God, wherever found, cannot be attributed to man's sinful nature, but rather to God's initiative in seeking to save the sinner. The Bible is full of passages that support this position. However, in this short note, we won't make use but of only two, one from the Old Testament, Jeremiah 1:5 «Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;» and one from the New Testament, Galatians 4:9 «But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God...».
But what do we mean when we speak of God's knowing man? Isn't God omniscient? Doesn't He know all things to the minutest detail? The answer to all these questions is a strongly emphatic and absolute «Yes». To His eyes «all things are naked and opened» (Heb.4: 13). But that's not the question. We are not dealing with God's general knowledge of all things, and consequently, of all men, too. We are concerned with God's special knowledge of certain peoples, like Israel, as well as certain individuals. And this because we find it said in the Bible so many times, as already stated.
Let us try now to see what is the meaning of these two passages of scripture within this framework of God's initiative in knowing man. In Jeremiah's case, what God says is, that He knew him by His omniscience before He formed him in his mother's belly. He knew him first and then He formed him. Then He owned him as His and separated him for a specific work, the prophetic office.
In the case of the Galatian Christians Paul by his second statement leaves no doubt as to what he meant. He meant that it wasn't they that knew God, but God that knew them. This principle pervades throughout the Bible, and all those scriptures that speak of man's knowing God are to be interpreted in this context: God foreknows man and elects him unto salvation by grace through faith. This blessed truth man is unable to conceive or explain by means of reason. He can only believe it in the heart. Any attempt to make it compatible to reason is encroaching on holy ground and may lead to damnable heresies.
Finally, there are scriptures where God says He knows some people, like, for instance, the proud, afar off (Ps. 138:6), or those where the Lord will say to some «I know you not», or «I never knew you» etc. Again, all these must be understood as meaning a personal acquaintance God makes with those who, within the framework of His initiative, respond to His call and offer of salvation. In conclusion, God's knowing man precedes man's knowing God, and this blessed fact lays the firm foundation of our assurance of salvation and security in Christ. Amen.