In July, I’m going to be speaking to/with a group of young Christian leaders about intimacy with God. I’m thinking the topic through and these are some of my thoughts.
What is intimacy?
Intimacy is that characteristic of a relationship which can be called “closeness”. We can think of it as a deep knowing of the other. Often, we associate acceptance with that deep knowing, but not always. Sometimes, that deep knowing results in rejection, which is why intimacy can be frightening.
What is intimacy with God?
God is The Other. The regular word for that is Holy. Separate from all, particularly His creatures. If He is by His nature so completely Other, what are we talking about when we talk about intimacy with God? How is it possible to be close to Him, to have a deep knowledge of Him? I think we are talking about knowing God deeply. Not knowing about Him, but knowing Him. I think this is possible because God wills it. He wants us to know Him deeply and so He reveals Himself to us, becomes vulnerable to us.
How do we know that God desires intimacy with us?
There are many ways to characterize the story we find in the Bible. One way is to see it as the God’s pursuit of intimacy with his creatures. The story begins with God and mankind living together in Eden. After the relationship is fractured and even though He drives Adam and Eve out of the garden, God spends much of the rest of human history attempting to “be their God” and getting them to “be His people”. This is particularly true of Abram and his descendants. The history of Israel is a constant vacillation between being close to God and fleeing from God with frequent expulsions by God. Yet, the promise always remains: one day God will restore the relationship with His creation, with mankind. Then He comes to be Immanuel, “God with us.” Most people call Him Jesus. Jesus lives and dies among us, and then when He is raised to life, He leaves us. Yet, He gives us His Spirit and through His Spirit He is always close: with us even. Finally, when Jesus returns, we read in the Revelation that “the dwelling of God is now with men”. This is the story of God’s pursuit of intimacy with us.
How can we become intimate with God?
Jesus did not come to show us how to have an intimate relationship with God. He came to make it possible. So, intimacy with God begins with Jesus. Once we become His disciples, He gives us His Spirit and our journey into intimacy with God begins. Pragmatically speaking, we can get close to God in a variety of ways. We draw near to Him through worship, prayer and obedience. We come to know Him through studying the life of His Son and emulating Him. We learn about Him through the stories, songs, poems and revelations found in Scripture. All of these things take time and effort. History is the story of God’s effort to have an intimate relationship with His people. We should expect that our story of intimacy with God will involve effort on our part as well.