We all have friends. “Bros”, Best Friend Forevers (BFFs), close friends, acquaintances, you name it. Not surprisingly, the quality of the friendship depends on how well we know the person, and how much effort we put into the relationship. Think about those groups of friends that you have, with differing levels of intimacy. Which group does God fall into?
Let us be honest about this. Some of us have God in the “BFFs” category; others may have God in the “acquaintances”, or even the “speed-dial when crap happens in my life” category. Some only seek affirming or wise words from God when they want them. When this is the case, God is not any different from an inanimate book with wisdom sayings. Such a relationship is one-way with no strings attached: I call you up when I need a quickie. Or, some may have God in the “awkward” zone: I kind of know you, but I don't know how I feel about you.
St. Ignatius has this to say about our friendship with God. First of all, we need to know God to love him. This knowledge, however, is not a kind of intellectual understanding that remains in the head. Rather, it is a kind of knowledge that moves our being on the most profound level. He coins a specific term for this in the Spanish version of the Spiritual Exercises (SE): conocimiento interno. This translates into “internal knowledge” in English, but its essence is better captured by translating it into “intimate” or “heartfelt knowledge”.
It is very convenient for us to understand Jesus as an intellectual concept, because personal commitment is unnecessary in such a case. We can memorise the Gospels, the catechism, and volumes upon volumes of theological texts for this. Then we go onto “Jeopardy: Jesus Edition” and win it all. But we are only knowing these facts about Jesus from a polite distance. This is very similar to what Jesus asks of Peter in the Gospel (Mk 8:29): I am not asking you about what others think of me; who am I to you? St. Ignatius wants that this knowledge of the Lord be personal and heartfelt for us, not impersonal and definitional.
Recall the last time you had a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend. It required the letting down of guards, and it probably involved the discussion of matters that were intimately personal. Perhaps you were seeking advice, and perhaps advices were given; what mattered at the end was the friend's presence. Our hearts were exposed, but they were also transformed. The same goes for our friendship with God. It will change us, and changes can be intimidating. But God isn't intimidating, and love always transforms us.
Moreover, if such is the nature of this knowledge, it has to go somewhere. It cannot be a kind of “Aww, that's nice” attitude which leaves us standing pat. Our hearts are moved in such a way that the momentum carries us in a certain direction: It leads us to love Jesus more and follow him more closely (SE 104). After all, this friend is not just any other friend, but one that allows us to grow into who we truly are in the most life-giving way.
As you can see by now, conocimiento interno does not apply to casual friends or distant acquaintances; it is simply not in the fabric of such relationships. If God falls into these categories for you, here is an invitation to move him up onto a more advanced level. Spending more time with this friend (like having a regular personal prayer routine) can be a start. Trying to realize how this friend regularly pops up in your life can also help. Ultimately, this is not about checking things off a list, but rather finding a way that works for me to develop this conocimiento interno of the Lord. I leave you with this question for reflection: How much am I investing into developing this friendship?