For me, knowing God means having a relationship with God. To wrap my mind around this, I sometimes think about what it means to know and be known by my mother.
Not Having All the Facts
Although my mother and I have known each other for 35 years, we do not have all the facts about each other. She didn’t, for example, know that I was bisexual and transgender before I told her. And, there are many facts about her history and experience that I don’t know. However, I do know more stories about my mother than I would know if we were strangers. Some stories I have heard more than once. Sometimes when I tell a story, my mother tells me that I told it differently last time, and so I tell a third story to try to reconcile the two. So also with knowing God. There are stories I have heard and stories I have yet to hear. There are discrepancies I need to reconcile. There are things I believe about God about which I will change my mind later. There are gaps in my factual understanding that will never be filled in this life. So knowing God doesn’t mean knowing all about God.
Not Having the One Word
Many times we are invited to choose the one word that best describes our God. But if I were asked to come up with one word that perfectly describes my mother, I couldn’t do it. This is because we have a deep and complex relationship, and she is to me more than any one word. On a given occasion, in a game of word association or when writing a poem or telling a story about my mother, I might come up with a word that fits the occasion, such as “accepting.” She has, after all, actively supported LGBT folk since well before I came out to her. But there would be some ways this word would not describe my mother, for example, the way she responded to one of my boyfriends long ago. Neither “non-accepting” nor “accepting” completely describes my mother, although she is much more accepting than not. So also with naming God. A word such as “mother” might describe God very well on some occasion. But on another occasion, it might not fit so well. The same could be said for the word “father.” Hence the need for many names and even occasions of namelessness for God.
Knowing Through Experience
The kind of knowledge I have of my mother has developed over time through sharing time with her and reflecting upon those times. The kind of knowledge I have of my God comes in the same way. I am often most aware of God when I go to the park. There I feel the presence of God radiating through nature, and I know I am never alone. I also feel the presence of God almost as strongly when I think and talk about God in a community of faith or when I write about being in the park. I know God further through the stories of God’s people and through my story when I tell it.
Final Thoughts about God
That said, there are things I believe I know about my mother and things I believe I know about God. I believe that God is always present. I believe that God understands everyone’s limitations and concerns. I believe that God knows our stories before we tell them. I believe that nothing – not conservative renderings of scripture, not churches that reject us, not constitutional amendments – can separate us from the love of God.