Can We Know God in This Life? The answer may surprise you…

An email subscriber named Joe asks a great question regarding “knowing God” and the revelation of God in and through Christ:

Dr. Marshall,

First of all I want to thank you for your online resources.  I have spent the afternoon reading through (and understanding almost all of 🙂 Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages.  I really appreciate your ability to make his theology understandable.  My question is with regards to the story in the Aquinas’ Mystical Death section:

Thomas fell into ecstasy.  He heard the voice of Christ speak to him.  Christ asked him what he desired, and Thomas replied “Only you Lord.  Only you.”

Later on in the book in the section entitled Can We Know God you summarize his teaching in saying,  “We can come to know the general attributes of God.  We can know what he is like, but we cannot know him directly because he is beyond us.”How am I to reconcile the apparent contradiction that Thomas apparently “knew” Christ in his ecstasy?

Is knowing God “directly” referencing the ability to know him as you and I might know each other directly?  While I know that having a “personal relationship” with Christ is Protestant in terminology, as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion I have a deep personal relationship with the Blessed Sacrament.

I am struggling with this concept as I am working on writing a book about our relationship with God.Blessings to you and your family!

Joe Killian

Dear Joe,

Great question. Knowing Christ in ecstasy (as Thomas Aquinas did) is different than knowing the divine essence of God. We can and do know Christ in His humanity, but His deity was and is veiled from our eyes. We will only see the divine essence, shared by the Trinity, in Heaven.
Here on earth, in this valley of tears, we can only know about the divine essence through Scripture and reflection – but we cannot know it directly. As Thomas would say, we cannot have “quidditative” knowledge of God in this life. This is why, as I explain the book Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages, we can only know God through divine revelation (Scripture and Tradition) and denial (God is not finite, God is not stone, God is not ______, etc. to the nth degree).

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