The Knowing of the Son

And the Father himself which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you; for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.

— John 5:37-38

The Lord’s argument was this: “If ye had ever heard the Father’s voice, known his call; if you had ever imagined him, or a God anything like him; if you had cared for his will so that his word was at home in your hearts, you would have known me when you saw me—known that I must come from him, that I must be his messenger, and would have listened to me. The least acquaintance with God, such as any true heart must have, would have made you recognize that I came from the God of whom you knew that something. You would have been capable of knowing me by the light of his word abiding in you; by the shape you had beheld however vaguely; by the likeness of my face and my voice to those of my father. You would have seen my father in me; you would have known me by the little you knew of him. The family feeling would have been awake in you, the holy instinct of the same spirit, making you know your elder brother. That you do not know me now, as I stand here speaking to you, is that you do not know your own father, even my father; that throughout your lives you have refused to do his will, and so have not heard his voice; that you have shut your eyes from seeing him, and have thought of him only as a partisan of your ambitions. If you had loved my father, you would have known his son.” And I think he might have said, “If even you had loved your neighbor, you would have known me, neighbor to the deepest and best in you.”

Commentary

What Have You Learned about God through Obedience?
by Jess Lederman

MacDonald's single greatest point of emphasis is on the importance of obedience to the Word of God--not necessarily success in obedience, but a commitment of the will to trying to be obedient. 

It is the one terrible heresy of the church, that it has always been presenting something other than obedience as faith in Christ.

Obedience is not perfection, but trying.
— Unspoken Sermons, by George MacDonald

The Pharisees had been living their lives in a frenzy of attempted obedience--but obedience primarily to the laws they themselves had made, based on Scripture, true, but far from its beating heart. They had not cared for God's will "so that his word was at home in [their] hearts." They had never loved their neighbor--at least, tried to!--and therefore did not know the Father, and did not know the Son, "neighbor to the deepest and best" in them. 

MacDonald often made the point that obedience comes before understanding; that if we are confused by Scripture, put down all those volumes of commentaries (quit googling, he might say today), and go and do something which Jesus has told us to do. Resolve an argument with your brother, say a blessing for your enemy! Understanding will come. In passages such as John 8:31-32, Jesus is saying much the same thing: if we hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. Holding to His teaching is surely something we do as we live our lives, it is not merely a conviction we hold in our minds. What a man truly believes is revealed by what he does

Are there examples in Scripture of people growing in understanding through obedience? Jonah is an interestingly ambiguous case study in obedience. When the recalcitrant eponymous antihero finally obeys God, does he finally understand? Well, that would be a bit too easy, wouldn't it. In fact, the Lord ends the story with a question, and we are left to wonder whether Jonah ever grows in understanding of God's infinite mercy. Indeed, this is perhaps the last subject that many Christians will ever understand: I note the martyred saints in Revelation, asking God how much longer before the sinners get what's coming to them. Will they, like Jonah, be similarly dismayed at the prospect of sharing eternal life in the New Jerusalem with the formerly wicked? 

A frequent participant in the GMS Wingfold email group recently asked the question I pose today in the title of this commentary: can you think of any instances in which obedience has helped you to better understand the Father? For me, the act of adopting an 11-year-old child who grew up in an orphanage in China has provided just a bit more understanding of the heart of God, who so often must draw us to Him, while we whine and wail and wish we could remain in darkness, rather than be blinded by His light. So, let's get some reader participation going, since this post is set up as a blog. Respond through Disqus below!