Suppose I say to you, “Define God in twenty words or less.” And I give you thirty seconds to do it. What would you say? Could you do it? Does it seem unfair? Suppose I give you 200,000 words and thirty years. Would it be any easier? And would you come any closer to the truth?
Since God is the ultimate source of all reality, we can’t really “define” Him. But we can say this: Knowing God is the most important thing in life. If you live thirty or forty or fifty or sixty or seventy or eighty years and you don’t know God, then it doesn’t matter what else you have done with your life. If you don’t know God, you have missed the very reason for your existence. When we put God at the center of all things, then everything else finds its proper place. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). If you want wisdom, know God! If you want knowledge, seek the Lord!
If you miss out on knowing God, you have missed the central reality of the universe. Compared to knowing the One who made you, everything else is just crumbs and nibbling around the edges.
We were made to know God, and something inside every one of us desperately wants to know Him. We are incurably religious by nature. That’s why every human society—no matter how primitive—has some concept of a higher power, some vision of a reality that goes beyond the natural. On one level, that explains why science has not eliminated religion from the earth. Science can never do that because technological achievement can’t meet the deepest needs of the human heart.
We want to know the answers to the three most basic questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? And we will spend money, buy books, watch videos, attend seminars, search the Internet, and travel great distances to find the answers. A book claiming to report one woman’s after-death visit to heaven climbed to the top of the best-seller list. There are even TV programs featuring mediums who claim to be able to contact dead family members. People are hungry for spiritual truth, and they will reach for anyone or anything that claims to give them an answer.
It is the same in every country and every culture. On the surface we are very different in our appearance, background, language, and customs. But dig a little deeper and you discover that basically, we are all the same. Look beneath the surface and you discover no real difference between a person born in poverty in Haiti and a corporate lawyer on Wall Street; or between a schoolteacher in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a computer scientist in Singapore. Everywhere we are the same—with the same longings, regrets, dreams, and hopes; with the same need to love and be loved; with the same desire to be remembered after we die; and with the same sense that there must be a God of some kind who made us.
We were made to know God, and we need to know Him. God designed us so that we would want to know Him—and then He guaranteed we wouldn’t be happy unless He Himself fills the emptiness within. This brings us face-to-face with the famous statement that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each person. We can turn to God, or we can fill the vacuum with idols of our own making or the evil spirits of our ancestors. Something in us drives us to seek ultimate meaning. That “something” is put there by God. Augustine, an ancient Christian theologian, gave us this frequently heard prayer: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
The whole Bible demonstrates that God wants us to know Him. In a sense, that is the theme of the Bible—how God loved us, how we rebelled against Him, and how God set about rescuing people who had turned against Him. The story is clear enough. God sent prophets, priests, and messengers of various sorts. He sent His messages in writing. But we (all the people on earth) didn’t want anything to do with God. So we ignored His message and sometimes killed His messengers. Then He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the ultimate expression of His love. And we killed Him, too. But through His death God made a way for each and every one of us to be forgiven.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of the story for a moment. When God first created the world, He created Adam and Eve and made them “in his image” and “after his likeness.” “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). These simple phrases are full of meaning for us. We were made in God’s image, which means there is something in us that corresponds to who God is. You and I were designed to know God personally. Dogs don’t pray, birds don’t worship, fish don’t praise—but we do. Why? Because there is an awareness of God inside every human heart. It is this “God-consciousness” that makes us want to know God and makes us eager to find out why we exist.
But there’s another part of the story. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, that image of God within each of us has been distorted by sin. I picture a piece of paper with the words GOD’S IMAGE in huge letters. Before Adam and Eve sinned, that paper was clean and smooth. Now for all of us that paper is crumpled, dirty, and torn. But it is never completely destroyed. Despite all our failures, we still want to know God, and we still want to find meaning in life but just don’t know where to look.
To use a very modern phrase, we are left with a kind of “Father hunger.” That’s a phrase used to describe children growing up in a family without a strong and loving father figure. He may have died or he may have abandoned his family. Or perhaps he was so busy he had no time for his family. Because he barely knows his children, they compete desperately for his little scraps of love and approval. Children growing up in a home like this desperately want a father, and sometimes they will look for someone (or something) to fill that void.
On a much larger scale, that’s the story of all humanity. We were made to know God and we want to know Him, but our sin has separated us from God. As a result, we are left with a deep “Father hunger” that won’t go away.
So what do we do? We look for love in all the wrong places. We can illustrate this using a pen and a piece of paper. Draw a cliff on the right side of the paper and label it “God.” On the left side draw another cliff and label it “Us.” Label the gap in between with the word “Sin.” That’s the problem we all face. We’re on one side, God is on the other, and our sin stands between God and us. Something deep inside tells us we belong on the other side with the God who made us. So we set out to build bridges across the great chasm.
“God designed us so that we would want to know Him—and then He guaranteed we wouldn’t be happy unless He Himself fills the emptiness within.”
Now draw lines that start on the “Us” side and move toward the “God” side, ending each line somewhere in-between the two cliffs. Each line represents a human “bridge” we build in our attempts to find our way back to God. One bridge is labeled “Money,” another “Education,” another “Good works,” another “Sex,” another “Power,” another “Science,” another “Success,” another “Approval,” another “Relationships,” and another “Religion.” You can make as many bridges as you like, but they never seem to reach the other side. Each one ends somewhere in the middle, illustrating the truth that you can never find God by starting where you are. No matter which road you take, you fall into the great chasm and end up being broken on the jagged rocks of reality.
That’s what I mean by searching in all the wrong places. Nothing in this world can satisfy our longing because nothing in this world can lead us back to God. The answer we need must come from outside this world.
Three thousand years ago, a wise man named Solomon went on a search to find the key to the meaning of life. He recorded his findings in a book of the Bible called Ecclesiastes. In the first two chapters he tells about his grand experiment. He built buildings, planted vast gardens, tried the party scene, and built up a vast fortune. He gathered books and a great deal of human knowledge. Anything he wanted, he got for himself. Nothing was held back. He tried anything and everything in his search for meaning.
He reported his finding in three terse words: “I hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). When nothing satisfies, when you’ve truly tried it all, when you can say with calm assurance, “Been there, done that” and you still feel the emptiness within, what do you do then? Solomon’s conclusion could stand as an epitaph for every generation.
Here is our problem in a nutshell. We were made by God to know God. There is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each person that causes us to seek after the One who made us. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God “has put eternity in their hearts.” Because we search in all the wrong places, we can never find Him. Our eternal longing for God is not fulfilled.
In the end we are left with this great truth: We can never know God unless He reveals Himself to us. Try as we might we always end up in the darkness, seeking a God we know is there but cannot seem to find. But God has not left us to live in darkness forever. He has revealed Himself in four primary ways:
The last revelation is the most important. Jesus is “God incarnate,” that is, God clothed with human flesh. When Jesus walked on the earth, He was the God-man, fully God and fully man at the same time. Jesus is the supreme revelation of God. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus is the key to knowing God. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
by Ray Pritchard
People have honest doubts and questions about God that deserve solid answers. How do we explain the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way we can...
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