April 15, 2017

Intimacy with God

The Old Testament Song of Solomon is a love story. Some say that it points to a New Testament reality —the intimacy between Jesus Christ and His people. While this interpretation riles others, today’s devotional reading by Donald Fortner pairs a verse from this the following passage with that Old Testament book. His theme is knowing Christ . . .

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7–11)

The passage from Song of Solomon that Fortner connects to this ends with the bride speaking of her beloved:

“His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song of Solomon 5:16)

Fortner says this passage is about knowing our beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ. He also writes of his fear that there are many very religious people who are content to live without knowing Christ, at least not intimately as these verses suggest.

I notice the same phenomena. Many willingly accept Jesus as their Savior, yet they talk of Him as an acquaintance, not as someone well known, and certainly not as a lover who thrills their hearts, and draws them into great intimacy.

The words “to know” have various meanings in both Hebrew and Greek. It is used to explain God’s deep knowledge of us; such as the number of hairs on our heads and our thoughts and words before we speak. He invites us into a relationship of intimacy, not passive or merely knowing facts. Intimacy goes beyond all that to become one with Him in His concerns by seeking Him in all areas of our lives. Like a lover, He is the most important relationship we have, the One in whom we not only trust for salvation, but run to with every joy and sorrow, every delight and problem. Knowing Him means He is the center of our lives.

In the Bible, ‘knowing’ also refers to the intimate physical union between a man and woman. For some who read Ecclesiastes, this sexuality is uncomfortable, even sinful. Their minds cannot get beyond the physical and focus on the intimacy that is the height of this ‘knowing’ that Fortner links with Paul’s desire to know Christ.

He is right though. There is an intimacy apart from a sexual union that goes beyond friendship. Some use the term “soul-mate” to describe a closeness where communication happens without words, where the needs, interests, and desires of another become a sweet blessing and never a burden.

How can this happen? Paul says it is about knowing him and the power of His resurrection, about sharing in His sufferings, about being like Him in His death. This might be the kicker. Few people, even Christian people, want to go there. Die with Christ? Die to all but the will of God? Yet Paul knew that this is the route to that deep intimacy that is like that of lovers.

So what are the options? If knowing Him seems too difficult, then He is held at arm’s length, given lip service, prayed to only for what we want Him to do for us. Otherwise we think He is too demanding. We want a “nice Savior” who will take care of all our needs and make us comfortable. Sadly, that view of Jesus will become shockingly disappointing when our Christianity slides into comfortable pews, pat answers, and a shallow life that we insist makes sense.

Jesus, You know my heart. It thirsts after You like a deer in the desert. You let me taste the sweetness of Your love and that taste awakens a great hunger. It also takes me into a realm of trials, and spiritual war, of frantic confusion where uncertainties threaten and my weaknesses seem endless. Yet it is there that You meet me, hold my hand, put Your arms around me. It is in the darkest places where I begin to know You in the deepest way. You are teaching me to think like Your Word says. I am overwhelmed by You. 

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