And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. —Eph 3:17-19
The summer after I graduated from Texas A & M, I was helping my dad on a construction job. He was purchasing a piece of machinery that would dig holes in solid rock. The salesman spent some time with us as we tested out the machine. During our conversation, he asked what I did. After I told him that I had just graduated from college, he responded, “Oh, no experience. There is nothing like experience.”
Luckily, I’m not the type that is easily offended by direct words. And I knew that I was green. I knew that I needed experience, but I was not afraid of being young either. I just did not realize that graduating with honors and all of the knowledge floating around in my head actually qualified me for so little. I spent most of that summer driving a tractor for twelve hours a day, and my first full-time job all of $18,000 with no benefits.
Knowing love is a little like job experience. It is not something that we can read about in a book or go to classes to understand. Love is known as we experience it. Theoretical knowledge is not a bad thing—neither was getting my undergraduate degree—as it can help you sort out your thinking. It helps us articulate various aspects of God’s love and how it is different from human love. It gives us the ability to preach sermons about how God loves us. But if we stop there, it is very possible to actually miss out on what love is.
Consider this: the Bible is primary made up of stories about the experience of a people who encounter God and follow him. And the parts that are not stories, the Psalms, prophetic literature and the epistles, are addressing specific situations that the people of God face as they try to follow God. In other words, it is very difficult to find pure propositional teaching in the Bible that clearly defines who God is.
Even the statement “God is love” is set in a specific context in 1 John. Love is a word that requires “filling” if we are going to understand what it means. John fills it by stating that love is seen in Jesus. More specifically, it filled by Jesus’ actions on the cross. The Son of God is the full expression of the love of God.
If we want to know love, then we must know the Son. We must encounter the Son through an experience of his presence. This means that we are drawn into the life of love that the Father has for the Son by the Holy Spirit. This is more than abstract theology or theoretical knowledge. It is a lived experience or it is not knowledge.
In the modern world, knowledge is something that we attain through a logical process of testing a proposition and determining if that proposition actually has facts to support it.
If we import this way of thinking about knowledge into our knowledge of love and of God, then we will assume that learning about God is down in a logical vacuum that is void of experience, emotion or interaction with other people. Knowledge of God then becomes an exercise of trying to figure God out—assess his attributes and then define who God is and who he is not.
But knowledge of God is personal knowledge, the kind of knowledge that only comes through encounter. When we encounter God, it is experiential. Emotions are usually involved. And most often God uses people in some form or fashion.
We grow in the knowledge of love as we receive love, give love and live in love. We won’t be able to figure love out and then move on as if we got an “A” in the Love Class. We can only know God as we learn to love him and receive his love. Knowing God is a journey of knowing love, an unpredictable, uncontrollable, relational journey. We have to let love (and God) be free without trying to define it and determine what it is. Relationships just don’t work that way. And neither does a relational God.