“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3
I once heard it said that all human beings seem to be programmed with a desire to live forever. We yearn to push the boundaries of how young we can look, how healthy our lifestyle can be to keep us free from sickness, and how modern medicine can aid us in lengthen our life expectancy. Yet, all of these pursuits aim much too low than what that programmed desire was designed to push us towards – a desire for the eternal life only God can provide for us.
In John 17:3, Jesus explicitly states what eternal life really is. Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus. Now the word “know” that Jesus uses here means to have continual experience of. Jesus is not saying that the more knowledge gained about the Father and Him will lead a person into eternal life. Rather, He is saying that the continual relational experience with God the Father and Him, Jesus the Son, IS eternal life.
When I try to explain the difference of these two “know” meanings, I often use the example of teaching my son how to know a roller coaster, and in this case my favorite roller coaster, the Rockin Rollercoaster at Hollywood Studios in Disney Word.
In relating to him the first type of “know” I would share with him the description that Disney provides on their website about the ride:
“Aerosmith's having a backstage party across town and you're invited. Ready to brave the LA freeways? Zoom from 0-60 mph with the force of a supersonic F-14, take in high-speed loops and turns synchronized to a specially recorded Aerosmith soundtrack and zip through Tinseltown in the biggest, loudest limo you've ever seen.”
Now, in relating the second type of “know” to him, I would share with him an experience on that same ride:
“As we entered the final section of the line to board the ride we found ourselves in a noisy parking garage with coaster cars looking like really long stretch limos. The attendant sat us next to each other in the front seat of the limo and then made sure the locking harnesses that came down over our heads were securely locked into place for our safety. Built into each of our seats were speakers place on either side of our heads so we were sure to not miss a single beat of the synchronized sounds that were awaiting us. As our limo rounded the corner and pointed itself at a completely black hole in the building the count-down began. “5”, “4”, “3”, “2”, and then even before the count hit “1” the entire car and all of its occupants were shot from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a manner of seconds. (I have to tell you I have ridden this ride many times and try as I might there is no possible way to stop your skin from pulling back on your face and to keep your eyes from watering when you are shot that fast.) The remainder of the ride took us on a track that put us completely upside-down at least three times, all the while the music adds an even greater element of intensity to the ride. Getting off the ride and ending his first experience on the coaster, he had a look on his face like he was wondering just what had happened to him, but then when he did speak he said, “Let’s do that again!”
From my experience, “knowing about” God the Father and Jesus His Son only leads to dull religious and pure academic pursuits – just like reading the description the roller coaster to my son could not give him a real taste of the ride. The pursuit of knowledge, if done solely for its attainment, will eventually lead me away from the relationship Jesus was talking about. In the end, I am left seeking for more because the initial desire that started my pursuit was not fulfilled.
But, when I focus on the relationship first and make my first priority to “know – have experience of” God the Father and Jesus His Son, that is where I find my soul’s desire satisfied and where eternal life is mine to partake in. Then the difference in the knowledge attained through my relationship with God becomes experiential knowledge, where each nugget of truth brings with it a deep and intimate experience that ties that knowledge to my heart and to God in a way that pure academic knowledge never could.