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Knowing God

The knowledge of God is the principal knowledge and the chief end of education.

Charlotte Mason 1


Education is the science of relations, relations with saints and sinners, the past and the present, earth and sky, art and craft, work and leisure. Still, there is more. Nothing matters so much in the making of a man or woman as his/her relationship with God. It is a truism that we are creatures who desire and worship and that we become like the things we desire and worship. For good or ill, we are always in the process of being conformed to the image of our gods. For many of us, our god is far too small. Like the ancient Israelites, we have a propensity to bow before idols of our own making. Too frequently, we do as is our nature to do and give our self to false gods; rather than, worshiping the living God in whose presence seraphim declare “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 2


The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say then to me,” Is God angry?” Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly but He is good and kind and merciful to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious.


— Theophilus of Antioch 3


Unless half dead, the heart of man and woman cries for more than the humdrum of daily existence. We are made for the infinite and find no true fulfillment apart from it. Sixteen centuries ago, in his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo declared, “[God] You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” 4 Such is the testimony of all who have come to intimacy with God. In Charlotte Mason’s words:


“I want, am made for, and must have a God.” We have within us an infinite capacity for love, loyalty, and service; but we are deterred, checked on every hand, by limitations in the objects of our love and service. It is only to our God that we can give the whole, and only from Him can we get the love we exact; a love which is like the air, an element to live in, out of which we gasp and perish. Where, but in our God, the Maker of heaven and earth, shall we find the key to all knowledge? Where, but in Him, whose is the power, the secret of dominion? And our search and demand for goodness and beauty baffled here, disappointed there––it is only in our God we find the whole. The Soul is for God, and God is for the Soul, as light is for the eye, and the eye is for light… the Soul of the poorest and most ignorant has capacity for God and can find no way of content without Him. 5


Central to the mission of Ambleside schools is nurturing every member of the school community’s relation to the Triune God, to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, leaders, teachers and staff at an Ambleside school affirm a commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy. 6 The importance of such orthodoxy is not to be underestimated. Doctrine expresses a set of ideas about the nature of God, and ideas have profound consequences. Doctrines are powerful, bear practical fruit in life and are essential for passing on truth from one generation to the next.


And yet, as is true of all relations between persons, there is an immense difference between (1) knowing true things about God and (2) knowing God intimately. While to know God intimately we must recognize essential truth about Him, theological knowledge about God in no way guarantees intimate attachment to God; for “Even demons believe and shudder.” 7 True attachment to God engages and transforms both the head’s understanding and the heart’s affections. 8 Witnessing the 1733–35 revivals in his Northampton, Massachusetts church and playing a prominent role in America’s First Great Awakening, pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards argued that:


He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are understood, they will affect the heart. 9


At Ambleside, we seek, for ourselves and our students, an intimate attachment to God that is true knowledge, personal knowledge, and passionate knowledge. We recognize that there are those who one day will say to the Lord, “I signed the right doctrinal statement.” But to whom the Lord will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me.” 10 Conversely, there are those who share genuine intimacy with God while having incomplete knowledge or erroneous opinion about Him. In no way do we minimize the importance of truth. Erroneous theology has harmful consequences. To the extent that our theology is in error, we suffer loss; but if we sin against charity, we suffer greater loss. When we disagree, it matters; one is clearer on the truth and the other less so. Still, we remain humble, charitable, and respectful of the diverse positions of our diverse families and churches.


We remember the example of Thomas Aquinas, who possessed one of the church’s greatest theological minds. Toward the end of his life, following a more intimate personal encounter with God, Aquinas ceased his theological writing, saying to Reginald, his secretary and friend, “Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.” 11 When the full glory of God is revealed, we will all have our theology overwhelmed.12


In summary, our intent is that every member of the Ambleside community may have within his or her heart the shout of the King.


Let them grow up, too, with the shout of a King in their midst. There are, in this poor stuff we call human nature, founts of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, glad service, which have, alas! to be unsealed in the earth-laden older heart, but only ask place to flow from the child’s. There is no safeguard and no joy like that of being under orders, being possessed, controlled, continually in the service of One whom it is gladness to obey.


— Charlotte Mason 13

1 Mason, Charlotte. Home Education. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989. 2.
2 Isaiah 6:3 (NRSV)
3 Theophilus of Antioch. Apology to Autolycus. Book 1. Chapter 3. Theophilus was patriarch of Antioch from c.169 to c. 183. His Apology to Autolycus was an early defense of Christianity to a pagan audience.
4 Augustine, Saint. “The Confessions (Book I).” Chapter 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Kevin Knight. Translated by J.G. Pilkington, CHURCH FATHERS: Confessions, Book I (St. Augustine),
5 Mason, Charlotte. Ourselves. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989. 175-176.
6 In the form of the Nicene Creed or equivalent. Trinitarian orthodoxy is much more than an esoteric litmus test of faith. It gives expression to the conviction that the fundamental ground of all existence is relationship in love.
7 James 2:19 (NRSV)
8 Other than a heart’s growing intimacy with God, growing love of neighbor and growing peace; we must not confuse any particular type of emotional experience with deepening attachment to God.
9 Edwards, Jonathan. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. Philadelphia, PA: James Crissy, 1821. 44-45.
10 Matthew 7:23 (KJV)
11 Chesterton, G. K. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. Image Books/Doubleday, 2001.
12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV).
13 Mason, Charlotte. Parents and Children. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989. 57.