by Stephen Venable
All of humanity, whether born again or lost in sin, can be defined as a vast, gaping need. Looking across the landscape of this generation our eyes observe men and women, young and old, throwing themselves into entertainment, recreation, technology, food, music, friends, and a host of other licit and illicit things as they grope for the answer to the riddle of why they are alive and seek to silence the screaming voice of yearning in their souls. And it is within these searching masses that we find ourselves, languishing in the plight of longing. No matter how much we buy, who we know, or what fleeting pleasures we experience, we find that none of it can quench the insatiable thirst in the depths of our being. So it is that day after day we go about panting and groaning for something that will satisfy the desires that dominate our inner man. It is in the gnawing ache of this restless discontentment so familiar to us all that the subject of intimacy with God finds its relevance.
Intimacy is a word being thrown around a lot in our day, both inside and outside of the Church. We all know that we want it because, on some level, we believe that only God can fill that void in our hearts. Still, for most of us, we don’t know quite how to get it, and what it actually means when we’re referring to intimacy with God Himself. We must realize that it is not just a certain way of speaking about God during a conference, nor is it merely a feeling we experience. Intimacy with God consists of relational knowledge – we are most intimate with those whom we know at the deepest levels. Jesus stands at the center of this pursuit because in His face we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Cor 4:6), not just because He pointed perfectly to God, but because He is the fullness of the Godhead in the flesh (Col 2:9). Thus, to know Jesus is to know God, for He is God, and that is what intimacy is really all about. That may seem simple enough, but the problem is that He might actually be the most forgotten and misunderstood person in the Church. His name is mentioned much but He remains largely unknown, a stranger in the midst of our many services and songs.
One of the most common misperceptions relates to how He feels about you. Deep inside we think that Jesus is mostly unemotional and distant, except for how disappointed He is with us – that is the one feeling we’re convinced He does actually feel. Yet the truth is that His heart is full of love and desire for you (1 John 4:19, Eph 3:18-19, John 15:9). This isn’t just an idea or a sweet sentiment, but a reality that He put on display in every moment of His life. Your Creator actually took on a human frame (John 1:1-1, 14) and then gave His body over to suffering and death in order to redeem you (Gal 2:20, Rev 1:5). The Gospels aren’t just stories; they are the vivid, tangible expression of His fierce desire to be in relationship with humanity. In the Bible, Christ is spoken of in many different ways, but the part of His identity that expresses this passion and joy of His heart most clearly is who He is as a Bridegroom (Matt 9:15, John 3:29, Rom 7:4, Eph 5:23-33, 2 Cor 11:2-4). All throughout the Old Testament, God is revealed as possessing the heart of a jealous husband for His people (Ex 34:14-16; Jer 2:2-3, 3:14, 31:32; Ezek 16:8; Is 62:5; Hos 2:16), and in Jesus we see the Divine Bridegroom right before our eyes, laying down His life to set us free from our sin and draw us near to Himself. This is where intimacy starts – in beholding the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross and realizing that He is inviting us to come close and enjoy our Maker and Husband forever (Isaiah 54:5). When this kindness, affection, and zeal dawn upon us, our hearts truly come alive for the first time, for we were fashioned for Him. But this is only the beginning, the doorway into something far greater. You see, as thrilling as it is, understanding that He likes us and wants to have us with Him (John 17:24) isn’t quite the same thing as knowing Him, just like getting the invitation in the mail isn’t exactly like going to the party.
To be sure, the invitation to intimacy is stunning, and at every stage of our journey into Love Himself (1 John 4:8, 16) we are in need of the truth of His great mercy and His desire for us. We are so very weak, and must return over and over to the fact that He pursued us when we were His enemies (Rom 5:6-8). And now, as the ones He fought for unto death, He enjoys us even in our struggle and immaturity as we sincerely follow Him. Yet we must not stop there, for the actual substance of the intimacy our hearts crave comes through an ever deepening discovery of who He is in all of His glory. The Apostle Paul said that he would gladly lose absolutely everything in his life if he could only gain Christ, because the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus was more precious to him than anything the world could offer (Phil 3:8). What Paul found is true for us all: the glory of Christ is so marvelous, so enrapturing, so satisfying and so grand that to see Him and savor Him is the greatest of all treasures. The way we do this is not complex or ethereal, but very simple – it consists of just one thing.
We sit at His feet and hear His word, or as David says, we gaze upon His beauty (Psalm 27:4, Luke 10:38-42). Acquiring the riches of the knowledge of Jesus (Eph 3:8) is not a question of purchasing the right teaching series, attending a certain conference, living in a particular place, experiencing a vision, or finding a specific book. The one necessary thing we must embrace is to actually open the Bible and, together with prayer and fasting, lovingly search out everything it says about the glory of who Jesus is and what He has done. As the Holy Spirit shines His light upon your heart through the written word, the majesty of the divinity of Christ, the perfection of His humanity, the wisdom of His sovereign leadership, the tenderness of His mercy, the blood of His cross, the hope of His kingdom, the greatness of His strength, and everything else about Him will become your sweetest portion in life. In drinking in the beauty of this Man, your soul will at last find its rest. This is intimacy, and this is what you were created for – to enjoy and adore the splendor of His glory forever. So forgetting what is behind, let us press on to know Him.