It is my pleasure to offer you a review of the book called “Knowing God” written by Mr. J.I. Packer who was one of the contemporaries of the famous C.S. Lewis and general editor of the ESV Bible Translation as we know it today. “Knowing God” is considered to be his absolute master piece, though it was surely not the last book he wrote. In following lines I will usher you through the outline of the book as well as point out some of Packers typical features related to his form and content of writing. Then I will concentrate on a chapter embracing Gods attribute of jealousy and offer discussion regarding the difficulties in presenting it to unchurched people. Last part opens up this same matter from another angle, which is application for Christians.
The book “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer is truly a must for every Christian. It begins with a thought-out clarification of what actually knowing God means and sets for elaborated definition in connection to wording of “knowing him (God)” in comparison to “knowing about him” as well as makes a reader examine his reasons for reading such a book as this one. This “spiritual classic” as Mr. John Stott called it, covers most of the basic attributes of God starting with easily and generally accepted ones like his Majesty, Wisdom or Love all the way to his other characteristics as Severity, Wrath or Jealousy which would perhaps be linked to pagan gods of Greece, however we would not naturally consider the latter to be in any way associated with a good Christian God. In this section of the book reader is introduced to concepts which to high extent expound these contradictions and put them under the light in which they fit perfectly together creating the unanimous harmony of a perfect being know as God. The third and last part deals with a various themes in relation to God and people. Notions as propitation, son-ship, adoption, guidance are presented likewise the core message of Romans in its breaking point from transition from chapter seven to eight, verity of blessings of God together with a divine unification with Him that, when is once made, can emphatically be not broken, by any possible earthly or heavenly force.
Professor Packer of Regent College in Vancouver positively used his broad and eloquent vocabulary which on the one hand secured accurate formulation of offered propositions, yet on the other it may have complicated the situation for an average English reader. Still to make sure the message would go through, repetition is used abundantly; he is pinpointing deep ideas emerging from scriptures from different angles with usage of genuinely illuminating illustrations. One of the things that makes this book priceless is that besides new, original thoughts brought forth also the primary essentials are put together in such a way that one can be up and down struck by their appositeness in which lays the key of simplicity to thorough comprehension. Because of his long studies and experience we can find here many references to other authors, to their quotes, discussing their opinions in particular areas as well whereby our perspective becomes surely enriched. Application of (fact-finding) poems from these authors is furthermore used to our credit, for it again adds another dimension to already colorful source of inspiration. One of the most influential evangelicals in North America does not merely leaves us with the brain knowledge and intellectual gratification, too encouragement and warmth of heart is here passed on, for this record overflows with a revelation of Gods grace, of his gift for us that we are easily to lift up, put on ourselves and walk with for the rest of our days here on earth and eternity with him in heaven.
Why is it hard for non-believers to understand that God is jealous?
In my opinion majority of themes examined in this book are not generally understood to the degree which is being offered here. Still there were some even more standing out of the line than others. After finishing all the way through, subjects of Gods Wrath and Jealousy stayed resonating in my head. For right these two are precisely characteristics which we would not look for, when speaking of loving God who sees us just as we are, knowing our needs and still wanting just the best for us. Since, as I dare to say, that you all would agree that these two are no virtues any of us would strive for in coaching sessions, discipleship or any form of positive personal development. Hence I see them as hardly explainable matters for this exact cause. Out of the two, wrath of God and His jealousy I would in ensuing lines like to focus specifically on the latter, for I see it carrying even more possible confusion than the former one. Now, the way J.I. Packer writes his arguments makes it almost impossible not to follow his straight line of logical successions, explaining one thing after another, however the vocabulary and vastness of the individual steps could scare some of our non-Christian listeners or readers away. Therefore I would suggest more personal and modest approach.
The word “jealousy” itself carries an extensive luggage of negative adjectives acquired over centuries of experience. A vice that causes mistrust, quarreling and brings families unto point where they break off, simply can not be in any way part of a good God! Can we then try to avoid it? Rank it as a some kind of minor attribute of His? No! In Bible we find numerous references of God being jealous, as a matter of fact he proclaimed this about himself “…I the Lord your God am a jealous God,…”(Exodus 20:5, ESV). If it takes such a big part in Bible we surely need to try to see beyond the obvious, to see what is originally meant by addressing God as being jealous. When I say the word “anthropomorphism” many of (you) religious scholars and elder church members would certainly not have any problems further on following on this word by exhausting comments in connection to usage of this figure of speech, which God is frequently using to bring His person closer to us through human expressions we already know well from everyday life. Even this previous definitions was long by itself. At the level we can speak to unchurched people this word can not be part of our vocabulary thereby this whole concept must be undergone in order for any possible further explanation. As Packer pronounced well “man is not measure of his Maker” which implies that our perception of language can not by applied as limiting factor for God because it was he who was its founder. In other words we must make sure that objectionable luggage will stay home and we will see Gods features rather as qualities than peculiarities carrying all sorts of “additions” bundled up by us along the way. “God’s jealousy” as Packer says “is not a compound of frustration, envy, and spite as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.” I believe that differentiation of these two can be anew one of the challenges standing in front of us when speaking to a mediocre man, since not everybody can easily think “out of the box”, out of their own perception of the world and all it contains.
Secondly, it would be less sophisticated, yet not sufficient by itself, to understand difference between two kinds of common manifestation of jealousy. First can be defined as an unhealthy desire for another persons possession or success of any type which may subsequently evoke hatred towards this same person. The second is fairly “zeal to protect a love-relationship” based on the similar feeling that a husband feels when his wife becomes a target of love related intruders. The former one would be the luggage and the latter the quality of God we are to focus at, for he has this zeal for us, to restore relationship with us and then preserve it until we will join him in kingdom of heaven, and from this point onwards we would rejoice in him forever. He often puts himself into the position of husband and a church in the place of his bride, which likewise bears the same relation to us individually as members of his church. There is a covenant between God and his people in a same way as marriage vow between husband and wife which presupposes love and loyalty. Now when these resemblances or parallels are finally obvious we are, with ease, able to proceed to the brief application part. Which says that every time we do something in contrast to God’s law he is jealous for us, because we walk away from him and that love-relationship is being broken. This sinful conduct is only just that intruder attacking His bride and He protects His vow, He protects our covenant which we voluntarily said yes to. And if we stay in it He will treat us like the adulterous woman laying with her lover arousing his divine wrath (which is another attribute that requires explanation) over us, but those who faithfully stay with Him until the end will share His glory. Having in mind people outside of a church, being not acquainted with the basics of theology, it is a lengthy job to fully make them understand this concept, yet it is a good opportunity we definitely should not miss, to speak with them about God and eventually find a way to Christ. All in all I see a list of other things that are more important to start with in connection to an unbeliever, to unchurched people with the gospel message decidedly on the top.
Gods jealousy for Christians
When being on a church ground, as I previously indicated, whole new world opens up. Besides all the things mentioned above, possibly said in a more detailed and eloquent way, we could bring up also other outcomes of this theme for our lives. For the clarification does not take so long and people are as well not looking for an argument rather than what does all of this has to say to their own lives, how should they apply it practically. Therefore I would more focus on us considering jealousy of God, what should we do, what should be our response. As relationship of a married couple ought to be equally mutual (with division of roles) we must love him in a same way or at least we should strive for the same love, for we alone are not capable of such love due to our sinful nature. Out of this love we should be experiencing zeal for him that again boarders with jealousy. I already took an account for what it means for God to be zealous, only that here the parallel of husband and wife ends for God is after all not on a same level as we are. He is our creator. And for us to be zealous men and women we must please God and glorify His name above all in everything we do. So who is zealous men? I do believe that definition given by Bishop J.C. Ryle is the best way to make this clear:
“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies – whether he has health, or whether he heals sickness – whether he is rich, or whether he is poor – whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence – whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish – whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise – whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame – for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God and to advance God’s glory.”
We must be zealous of “good works” no matter what are the costs. As Pauls life was Christ and death was gain (Phil. 1:21,ESV) when he was free and when he was in pain we must not look at circumstances, but always have our eyes attached on God to search and to fulfill his will for our lives. At last I want to refocus from individuals to church as institution. For the call of being zealous is equally relevant for individual churches as well as individuals that form these congregations. We must be zealous, we must fervent, we must be hot as Christs body in this world, stirring waves of gospel so people would “drown” in them! Not be like a mild water that does nothing, just is (Rev. 3:15,19). Churches that do not create any potential threat for Satan, are often churches without any real troubles, tribulations or torment, but they bear no fruit. For Satan “…walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pe 5:8, NKJV), exactly as lustful lover and because God is jealous, he will fight for us and make anything to draw us closer to him, away from the adversary, whose only wish is to pull us down into the eternal damnation.
J.I. Packer undeniably have put together rich source of information, but our job is not done with last pages of this book. We must know God better, for God is love and without love we are nothing. If we understood all mysteries and had all the knowledge, and if we had all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, we are nothing. We must know his will in our lives and to find it we must know His attributes, His ways and His character. Yet, as He is unimaginably complex, we should start in our journey as soon as possible to know Him as best as possible, a journey called “Knowing God”.