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  • Steve

To Know and Be Known

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

No white person can know what it’s like to be a person of color. No man can ever know what it’s like to be a woman, nor can a woman know what it’s like to be a man. Even if two people share the same skin color and gender, neither can say, “I know what it’s like to be you.” Even if we have all things in common with someone and experience the same event with them, we still cannot know their perspective or how they’re feeling. The only thing we may be certain of is knowing what we are going through. And, if we’re like most, we’re desperate to share what we are experiencing with someone who understands us and our feelings, if only we could trust that person to care about us more than themselves.



Wanting to be known and understood is an essential part of being human. It’s what drives our desire for relationships. It’s also what stands in the way of building them. When two people want to be known and understood, they spend their energy trying to get the other person to know and understand them. Neither one is listening. Both parties are busy channeling their thoughts and feelings through their mouth, without engaging their ears beyond wanting to hear some assurance that they’re being heard.


People want to be heard. They want others to know their thoughts and their feelings without being judged. As a leader, you must understand that people are motivated by their thoughts and feelings. If you are going to lead them, you must know these things. But how do we approach the discovery of another’s thoughts and feelings, knowing that we can’t truly know what they are thinking or feeling? Our first impulse is to share how we have experienced something similar. But this is the last thing others want to hear. The best answer is an honest one. We start by saying, “I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.”

We communicate a lot when we say words like these to people who are hurting, or frightened, or angry, or just concerned. In one sentence, we convey our humility along with our desire to connect, coupled with the recognition of what truly connects us as humans. You portray your humility by saying, “I can’t,” confessing that you’re not capable of all things. “Imagine,” says that you’re trying to connect by seeing things from their perspective, even after admitting it’s nearly impossible. “What you must be feeling,” communicates the one area where we are all connected. All of humanity feels. We are emotional beings. Regardless of our ethnicity, color, religion, or income, our ability to feel the same emotions represents the sacred ground of our human experience. But why do we want to connect on an emotional level? What are we trying to achieve? Is it all about us?


One of the most important aspects of the gospel is the good news of our being loved by someone who is completely trustworthy and who understands our thoughts and feelings. That “someone” is Jesus Christ. But how can we say with confidence that he both understands us and can relate to our emotions? The answer lies in the fact that Jesus was fully human and fully God.


Certain doctrines are pillars of the Christian faith. If any of these doctrines are not true, then the whole system of belief falls apart. One such doctrine states that Jesus Christ was fully man. That is, he was human in all the ways we define what it means to be human, with exception to sin (Hebrews 4:15).[1] The incarnation of Christ provides us the opportunity to experience being understood by God through the humanity of Jesus. Knowing that Jesus understands our feelings because of His human experience enables us to connect with Him at the intimate level of our emotions. Christ’s humanity positions Him as our high priest. Because He understands what it is like to be human, He can intercede on our behalf before God the Father.


For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin

(Hebrews 4:15).


The dual nature of Jesus also makes Him fully God. This reality overcomes the obstacle that we have when interacting with people. While we must say that we can’t imagine how someone is thinking or feeling, Jesus’ divinity makes Him keenly aware of precisely what one is thinking and feeling. Therefore, the intent of nearly all our interactions with people is not to fix them or manipulate them, or even encourage them for our benefit. Instead, we relate to them with the intent of connecting them with Jesus. He is the only One who is completely trustworthy, can relate to their thoughts and emotions, knows precisely what they are thinking and feeling, and is the only One who can provide the help they need (Hebrews 4:16).


So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:16).


People long to be fully known, wanting both their thoughts and feelings to be understood. They seek fulfillment of that desire through other people. Fulfillment never occurs, however, because people can’t know one another fully. Yet the desire drives us toward relationships, wanting something out of our human connections that we can’t get. The only way forward is for one person to realize that their part in the relationship is to help the other experience knowing Jesus and being fully known by Him. That’s why we strive to understand those we’re in a relationship with. It is not for our sakes, but theirs. They can only get what they long for in a relationship with Him. This is how we love. This is the gospel. And this is what drives us to Jesus Christ, who fulfills us and knits us together perfectly with others.

[1] For a detailed explanation of this doctrine, see “Berkhof’s Systematic Theology”, II B: The Natures of Christ online at: https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/names-nature-christ/systematic-theology/louis-berkhof

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