The 2021-22 Chapel Theme
To begin again to gather for worship this fall at Biola is a welcome restoration, a sign of new life, and a sweet relief from what has been a very hard start to the decade. Many have suffered much, and all have struggled with the limits, loneliness and loss the pandemic has brought. We have been remote, not just in our work and learning, but in our relationships. We have suffered a distance, an isolation, and a separation from the presence of others. We have literally been out of touch. This year’s chapel theme invites us into a biblical landscape of words, images, and ideas filled with Presence. This year we will explore what has always been true, the twin truths we now need to know--that we can know and are known by God, which in turn open us into a communion with all He has created. If there ever was a theme germane to the mission of a Christian university like Biola, this is it, for the university is that branch of the Church devoted to knowledge--including what John Calvin called the two most important fields of knowledge, knowledge of God and knowledge of self.
The apostle Paul, who could have prayed for many things in the letter he circulated to the churches in and around Ephesus, prayed chiefly for this: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” -- this to Christians who already in a sense ‘knew’ God (Eph. 1:17). This prayer should be a true north for all Christians in all places and in all times. Jesus in his own prayer in the upper room defined eternal life not as an expanse of time but as a relationship--that of knowing God: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3). “What higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” asks J.I. Packer in his classic work, Knowing God.
But this is only half the knowing. The Scriptures make much also of the truth that we are known by God. It is there in every major genre of the Scriptures. Throughout both testaments, God and God’s Son, Jesus, make clear that they know people, that they see them. Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, and Amos, for instance, are all people whom God “knew,” which was another way of saying, God saw them and saw also the intimate relationship and roles to which he would call them. Jesus saw and knew Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, Bartimaeus, Mary Magdalen, Peter and Zaccheus, among many others, and being known by Him changed their lives. Of God’s people, Paul, quoting Numbers 16:5, writes, “The Lord knows who are his,” a knowing that signifies belonging to God (2 Tim. 2:19). The writer of Psalm 139 famously declares, “thou hast searched me, and known me,” from the womb and into the dailyness of his days--his movements, his words, and his thoughts, even the dark ones. The Psalmist concludes, “such knowledge [that he is known] is too wonderful for me” (v.6). The primacy of being known is startling in Paul’s letters, who writes as if to say, we have little idea of how deeply, how intimately, and how particularly we are known. When we meet God face to face, it is then that
we will realize how fully we have been known, “For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).
We will see this year that being known by God is the first, most important clue in our search for identity. It provides us with self-knowledge, wisdom and direction. Its fruit are humility, intimacy and love. It bestows the fear of the Lord, a trembling, grateful wonder that he is mindful of us (“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:4). It brings comfort and security in the knowing presence of Jesus, who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). “I know my own,” he says, “and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (10:14-15). Even the name by which we are now known will be replaced apparently by a new name that so intimately reflects God’s knowledge of us that it will be known only to God and to the one he names (Isa. 62:2; Rev. 2:17).
Of course, such knowing and being known, understood biblically, must be relationally won, first and finally because it is a knowledge not of a thing but of persons. Christian knowledge, as we may and should gain it through scripture, reason, research and experience must finally become personal knowledge (which is not to say ‘individual’; we come to it in community as often as anywhere else). To know Christ’s love in this relational way is a “knowledge that surpasses knowledge” as one might normally think of it (Eph. 3:19). This is why chapels, too, are a place where knowledge is deepened in a peculiarly Christian way--where worship opens us to God’s revelation of himself that we might know Him, the Spirit’s illumination that we might love Him, and the vulnerable presentation of ourselves that we might rest in and live from the reality that we are known. Especially to those known to us so far only ‘remotely,’ we invite you this year to know and be known by God. We invite you to come to know one another, and be known by one another with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as your mentors in finding others and being found by them. If there was ever a time to connect, to enter and enjoy the mutual and loving knowledge of God and one another, it is surely now. Welcome to Biola’s 2021-2022 chapels. Be Know/n.