God’s knowledge of us Raymond Chapman

God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. He calls thee by thy name. He sees thee, and understands thee, as he made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strength and thy weakness’ [J.H. Newman, Parochial Sermons].

We may too easily blame the period in which we live for problems which have been common to the human race at all times and in all places. There is, however, no doubt that today we are suffering from an impersonal society, a lack of individual contact partly caused by the technology of communication. We live in a world of emails and call centres in unknown places.

Alienation and loneliness are negative features of the modern world, especially in big cities. But what keeps us apart from one another does not come only from outward conditions. There is also the fear of opening up to others, of exposing our inner selves and perhaps becoming involved in other people’s problems. We are rightly concerned about the loss of personal contact, while at the same time we are becoming more withdrawn from one another.

We worship God as transcendent, above all things of his creation, unknowable. It is the source of proper awe and reverence, with full scriptural warrant, but if it is our only idea of the divine, it can unhealthily nourish our rejection of human contact. The sense of a remote God can for some be reassuring. It takes away the certainty that what we do and say, our inmost thoughts, are known and under judgement. The harsher approach that has damaged some religious teaching in the past is partly to blame: the fear of the accusing eye, the condemnatory ‘God is watching you’. The God revealed to Christians is indeed beyond our comprehension, but he is also our heavenly Father, closer to us than even our most dearly loved in this world.

Newman writes of God’s knowledge of us as a positive assurance of love and understanding. Christians will learn not to be afraid of God who knows all. He knows it not only with the divine omniscience attributed in all monotheistic faiths, but by having been here, having shared our condition. He has felt our human loneliness, physical exhaustion, hunger, betrayal, disappointment. He knows our suffering even unto death. No human being has ever been so willingly vulnerable, so exposed to others, as Jesus. This is a great mystery but it is at the heart of our incarnational faith. Our God cares for the fall of a sparrow, numbers the hairs on every head, calls his sheep by name.

Strangest and most wonderful of all, he gives strength to resist temptation, because he has known what it is to be tempted. It is at first intimidating, but ultimately comforting, to be assured that he knows all about each of us. Our private prayers need no formal preparatory approach. Some may find traditional methods useful, but essentially prayer begins when we open ourselves to the love that is perfect, because unlike our human love it has no illusions, no reservations, no fear of disappointment. Prayer humbly acknowledges ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ [Col. 1.27].