Our Pages

A life devoted to knowing God: J. I. Packer (1926-2020)

A life devoted to knowing God: J. I. Packer (1926-2020)
Posted on July 19, 2020  - By Garrett Haley

Here’s a little anecdote my dad likes to share:

“Imagine you get to heaven and discover two doors in front of you. The first says: ‘Enter here to know God.’ The second says: ‘Enter here to know about God.’ Which would you choose?”

The point is, we’re often tempted to stuff our heads with more and more knowledge about God, but that’s not the same as knowing Him, is it? We’re not called to pursue mere head knowledge. No, we are in fact created to personally, daily, vibrantly know God. It’s a relationship — not an information game.

Knowing God is a relationship — not an information game

That’s the message J. I. Packer, the renowned Canadian-English Christian theologian, was most famous for sharing.

Last week, Packer passed away at the age of 93.

He served as an executive editor for Christianity Today, a theological editor of the ESV Study Bible, and a professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada.

Check your church’s or parents’ library, or maybe even your own book collection, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a copy of Packer’s most influential book: Knowing God. First published in 1973, the book sold over one million copies in North America alone and is widely regarded as one of the most influential evangelical Christian books of all time.

A rich legacy

The timing of Packer’s death was surprising and poignant to me, as I was actually reading through Knowing God.

His brilliant grasp of biblical theology is evident in the book. In fact, just a glance over its opening pages gives a taste of how many people’s lives the Lord influenced through him, as you see one influential Christian after another commend his work: Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Elisabeth Elliot, R. C. Sproul, Chuck Colson, Billy Graham, and the list goes on.

Packer’s heart for the church and Christians like us is evident even in the book’s closing words, where he wrote:

“‘Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face.” My heart says to thee, “Thy face, LORD, do I seek”’ (Psalm 27:8 RSV). If this book moves any of its readers to identify more closely with the psalmist at this point, it will not have been written in vain” (p. 278).

To appreciate a big picture perspective of who God is, what the gospel means for your life, and a reminder of what’s actually important at the end of the day, I’d highly recommend you read Knowing God. Nearly 50 years after first publishing, it remains as solid and refreshing as ever — and takes on new meaning now that Packer is finally at home with the Lord.

No greater thing

As we remember his life, consider these words from his book (p. 33, emphases mine):

Will our legacy be one of self-exaltation or worldly pursuits? Or will it be one of knowing God and making Him known?

What were we made for? To know God.

What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God.

What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. “I desired…the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” says God (Hosea 6:6 KJV).

Even for those who’ve never read Knowing God or never heard of Packer, I hope we’re encouraged by the legacy he left for us. He was resolutely determined to know God and share that passion with others.

One day, like Packer, we’ll pass into eternity. Whatever words we said, posts we shared, things we lived for — will be left behind for others to ponder and remember. Will our legacy be one of self-exaltation or worldly pursuits? Or will it be one of knowing God and making Him known?

I’ll close with a final quote from our late brother, J. I. Packer:

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on forever.”

(Image courtesy: Crossway)

Garrett Haley

About Garrett Haley

Garrett Haley is a native Texan and serves as a deacon at his local assembly in Lubbock, TX. He enjoys reading, writing blog posts, leading church discussion groups, and pondering life’s deep questions. Preaching on occasion and organising church get-togethers are a couple of his other favourite areas of service.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.