Knowledge of God is great, but God’s love is greater

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 6, 2022

The following is an adaptation of a story by Tolstoy.

Once upon a time, there was a bishop whose learning and wisdom brought him great honors. His congregation grew, and he gained great respect in his town as a man of God.

Finally, his notoriety spread all the way to the halls of the Vatican. He received word that the Pope would like an audience with this “great spiritual giant.”

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The bishop felt his sense of self-importance swell. When the day of departure arrived, the townspeople swarmed to the docks to see him and his entourage off to Rome.

After a few days of travel, the captain pointed out to the bishop a tiny island off in the distance. “That,” he said, “is the home of the three hermits who have chosen to cut themselves off from all of society in order to better serve and love God. It is said that they are the holiest men in the land.”

The bishop’s interest piqued, he asked if there might be time for him to visit the hermits.

Since the winds and weather had been so favorable, the captain indicated that they would have no problem stopping for a visit and still make their scheduled appointment in Rome.

Soon the bishop, dressed in his splendid robes and surrounded by his advisors, boarded a rowboat that carried them off to the little island.

As soon as the bishop stepped on the sand, the three hermits prostrated themselves in front of him.

After blessing them the bishop asked, “What do you spend all of your time doing here in this desolate place?”

“We spend our time seeking to better love God,” responded one of the hermits hesitantly.

“And what are you studying?” asked the bishop.

The puzzled hermits looked at each other and did not respond.

“Simpletons,” thought the bishop, and he decided to waste no more time with the hermits.

“Let us say the Lord’s Prayer and then I will be off,” he said with a yawn. Again, the hermits looked at each other in bewilderment.

“You mean you do not know the Lord’s Prayer?” the bishop cried in amazement.

The hermits lowered their heads apologetically and said, “Oh, sire, if it would help us to love God more, we would be pleased to learn.”

The bishop, with an air of patronage, replied dryly, “At least I can teach you this,” and he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

He then encouraged the hermits to repeat it after him.

They were very slow learners.For several exasperating hours, the bishop sat with the hermits, going over and over the words until each could haltingly make their way through the exercise.

The bishop quickly said a prayer over the three hermits and tumbled back into the rowboat. “Sheer idiots, mindless morons, a waste of my time,” spat out the bishop.

As the crew raised the anchor, one of the sailors cried out, “Ahoy! Men off the starboard bow!”

It was the three hermits, and to the astonishment of everyone on board, they were walking towards the ship on the water!

Once on board they bowed low before the bishop, and with heads hung low one of them, said, “Your excellency, we desire for you to teach us how to love our Savior more, but we are ashamed to say we have forgotten the last line of the prayer you taught us.”

Then the bishop, humbled to his core, got down on his knees in front of the three hermits and said, “My brothers, you have no need of me to teach you anything. Give me your blessing and I will go in peace.”

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.” (NIV)

True spirituality doesn’t come from how much you know about God, but from how much you love God.

Rev. Doug Johnson is the senior pastor at Raven Assembly of God in Raven, Virginia.