Two Kinds of Knowing

I was recently reminded of the distinction between the knowledge of God we have by acquisition vs. the knowledge of God we have by acquaintance.

Say you are watching a Vancouver Canucks game and decide to learn a little more about their goaltender, Eddie Lack. You look him up on Wikipedia and discover that he is Swedish, that he used to play for the Manitoba Moose, and that he is nicknamed “The Stork.” You memorize his save percentages. You even know the name of his hometown (Norrtälje) where his father Jan faithfully drove him to practices as a kid.

Now let me state the obvious: you don’t know Eddie Lack.

You have acquired some information about him. But you don’t have any personal acquaintance with him.

J.I. Packer puts it this way with respect to knowing God:

One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him. I am sure that many of us have never really grasped this. We find ourselves with a deep interest in theology. We read books of theological exposition and apologetics. We dip into Christian history, and study the Christian creed. We learn to find our way around the Scriptures… All very fine — yet interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing Him. We may know as much about God as Calvin knew — indeed, if we study his works diligently, sooner or later we shall — and yet all the time (unlike Calvin, may I say) we may hardly know God at all.

Once we understand that there is a difference between knowing about God (acquisition) and knowing God (acquaintance), then we can start turning our learning about God into an activity done before God, with God, and to God.