From the Prophet Jeremiah:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Jeremiah 31:33b-34 (NRSV) – June 6, 2014)

Troops marching at Omaha BeachCan the finite ever truly know the infinite? Can the human mind ever fully grasp the knowledge of God? We have the assurance of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the consolation of God spoken through “the weeping prophet” that it can. And Jeremiah is not alone.

Whenever I read a verse of scripture that speaks of the knowledge of God, I remember a favorite hymn of the rector under whom I served as curate, God Is Working His Purpose Out, sung to the tune Purpose. A repeating text in the hymn, not quite a chorus, is “the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” It is based on a verse from the prophet Habakkuk: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14)

Like Jeremiah, Habakkuk assures us that the time will come when finite human beings will know the infinite Lord. Habakkuk focuses on the overwhelming universality of this knowledge, “as the waters cover the sea,” while Jeremiah focuses on its intimacy, “I will write it on their hearts.” It is Jeremiah’s intimacy that is echoed by Paul in his famous essay on love in the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Church in Corinth where we find yet another assurance that despite our limitations we will come to full knowledge of God:

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:9-13)

Paul links knowledge of God to love using the Greek word agape, that word so poorly translated by our English word “love.” Agape is unconditional, non-judging love which places demands not on the beloved, but on the lover; it requires the lover (as Nazarene theologian Thomas Oord has noted) to act intentionally to promote well-being even, or perhaps especially, when responding to that which creates ill-being. Linking universal but intimate knowledge of God to agape, Paul places a burden on every follower of Christ.

The prophets’ assurance that all will know God, that the universal but intimate knowledge of the Almighty will cover the earth and also be written on individual hearts begs the question of how. Paul’s linkage answers that question: through the ministry of the members of the church. As the Episcopal Catechism says, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” through the ministry of God’s people. My old boss’s favorite hymn says it more poetically:

What can we do to work God’s work,
to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind —
the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time —
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world:
fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
to set their captives free,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, marching forth under the banner of Christ fighting sorrow and sin and setting captives free seems an appropriate metaphor for our ministry. God’s instrument for flooding the world with knowledge, for writing it on the hearts of human beings, is the Church, whose members are called “to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” (BCP 1979, page 855) March forth, Church, march forth!


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.