And I suppose it was a good fit - I even joined French Club, which meant I got to eat a lot of yummy French food over the years. But that’s really the extent of what I remember. In fact, I’m sad to admit I don’t even remember much of the actual French language I spent three years studying. I managed to learn and do what I needed to get the grade, was even inducted into French Honor Society, but not too long after graduation, I lost most of what I thought I had retained.
The truth is, there was never really any need to put what I learned into practice. Maybe if I had gone over to France and spent time there, been immersed in the culture, with the people, forced each day to communicate using their language, it probably would have sunk in deeper, becoming something I needed and could more easily hold onto. But instead, despite my teacher’s best efforts, I learned French at a surface level and now, I can’t remember much beyond how to say my name. I might have KNOWN the language, but I certainly wasn’t fluent in it.
I share that because I think, for me, I’m often tempted to approach my faith in a similar way. It’s easy to use that same cognitive approach I used while learning French, boxing everything in as head knowledge, attempting to know the right answers or have a basic understanding. I want to be make sure my beliefs are correct. And doing that also makes it easier to compartmentalize, to keep my faith at arms length. Sure, my faith is a part of who I am, but it’s just that. A part. I can move on to the next subject whenever the bell rings, if you will.
But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. That’s not what God intended for us. Honestly, I think we are meant for more. In the same way a language isn’t meant to be learned simply to pass a class, our faith isn’t meant to be just a system of beliefs we store in our brains. Part of fluency is having a language seep in and almost become second nature, and I’d argue that maybe our faith is meant for that same kind of fluency, too. A faith that deeply encompasses and permeates our whole selves, overflowing into the world around us.
But of course, in order to have a faith like that, we have to know who our faith is in. And again, I don’t mean that we need to know all the things ABOUT God. There’s a difference between knowing ABOUT someone and actually knowing them on a deeper level. My professor, Keas Keasler, used these two images in a lecture to showcase that difference:
Imagine dissecting a frog in the classroom. You will probably learn a lot about that frog by dissecting it, but your approach would be more analytical and scientific. You would have a pretty comprehensive understanding of the anatomy, but that’s about it.
Now there is certainly something to be said for that kind of research, the role that it plays, and the value that it adds. But contrast that dissection to the way Jane Goodall approached her research. If you don’t know, Jane Goodall spent 60 years studying chimpanzees in their natural habitat. She did this by immersing herself in the lives and community and environment of the chimps she studied. She got to know their likes, dislikes, and personalities. She even named them: David Greybeard, Flint, Goliath, Passion, Frodo, and Fifi, just to name a few. Clearly, she got to know them on a deep, connected level and the chimps grew to know her as well. There was a relationship, built on trust, between the chimps and Jane and I would say that Jane knew those chimps deeply.
So it is with our faith. If we are going to worship and follow God with our whole lives, our entire beings, then we need to know God on a deeper level, on a level that infiltrates every part of who we are.
There’s a story in the book of Acts where Paul talks about who God is and what it means to know God. This story is found in Acts 17, beginning in verse 16. Paul is in Athens and notices how the community there worshiped many idols. After being asked by some of the leadership to explain the God he has been preaching about, this is what Paul says:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b]
I love what Paul says here. It’s a reminder that we do not worship an unknown god, or an unknowable god. We worship and follow a God who knows us, who is moving and active in our lives, who is present with us, who pursues us, and who welcomes being known by us.
The people of Athens were very intellectual and often approached most things in life through an analytical lens. In fact, that last line, “For in him we live and move and have our being” was a familiar philosophical phrase in Athens. And so essentially, Paul was indicating that God was and is bigger than a thought or a theory. In fact, faith in God is a way of life, affecting and informing each part who we are, each move we make, each breath we breathe. Our faith is not in an unknown, disconnected, nameless god - rather, just like we talked about in Episode 21, and just like Jane Goodall interacting with and naming the chimps, we follow and worship a God we know by name and who knows each of us by name, too.
Today, if your faith feels distant or disconnected, remember, there’s a difference between knowing ABOUT God, and knowing God with our whole selves. May we choose to know God deeply, remembering that with God, we live and move and have our being.