When It Comes to Knowing God, Are You a Traveler or Just an Observer?

On my bike rides I’ve been listening to the wonderful audio version of a book that deeply affected me when I was a young teenage Christian in the 1970s. It’s J. I. Packer’s classic, Knowing God. (As a printed book or an audio to listen to as you drive or work out, this book is gold.) In an early chapter Packer says this:

Knowing GodIn A Preface to Christian Theology, John Mackay illustrated two kinds of interest in Christian things by picturing persons sitting on the high front balcony of a Spanish house watching travelers go by on the road below. The “balconeers” can overhear the travelers’ talk and chat with them; they may comment critically on the way that the travelers walk; or they may discuss questions about the road, how it can exist at all or lead anywhere, what might be seen from different points along it, and so forth; but they are onlookers, and their problems are theoretical only. The travelers, by contrast, face problems which, though they have their theoretical angle, are essentially practical—problems of the “which-way-to-go” and “how-to-make-it” type, problems which call not merely for comprehension but for decision and action too.

Balconeers and travelers may think over the same area, yet their problems differ. Thus (for instance) in relation to evil, the balconeer’s problem is to find a theoretical explanation of how evil can consist with God’s sovereignty and goodness, but the traveler’s problem is how to master evil and bring good out of it. Or again, in relation to sin, the balconeer asks whether racial sinfulness and personal perversity are really credible, while the traveler, knowing sin from within, asks what hope there is of deliverance. Or take the problem of the Godhead; while the balconeer is asking how one God can conceivably be three, what sort of unity three could have, and how three who make one can be persons, the traveler wants to know how to show proper honor, love and trust towards the three Persons who are now together at work to bring him out of sin to glory. And so we might go on. 

Now this is a book for travelers, and it is with travelers’ questions that it deals.

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries