Scene 3 of Act 1 of one of William Shakespeare’s most popular, well-known plays in the world is iconic. In Scene 3 of Act 1, Hamlet says, “To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them?”
Now what is it which stands behind this famous quote, what in the world is Hamlet talking about? Well, in this scene Hamlet is essentially thinking about life and death. Is it better to live or not to live? Throughout his soliloquy, Hamlet discusses with himself how painful and miserable human life is, and how death, specifically suicide, would be preferable, would it not be for the fearful uncertainty of what come after death. By the end of the scene, Hamlet pulls himself out of this reflective mode by deciding that too much thinking about it is the thing which will prevent him to follow through. Not knowing causes him to doubt.
Shakespeare’s character of Hamlet is not the only one who has ever asked this question. Sitting in prison, Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (1:22-24).
Much like Hamlet, Paul is debating in his mind, “is it better to live or not to live?” Being what Paul has suffered through in his ministry, being stoned and run out of town numerous times, left sometimes for dead, being persecuted against by different groups, being thrown into prison, Paul knows that he wouldn’t have to suffer if he was with the Lord. But unlike Hamlet who questioned what would come after death, Paul knows. Paul knows that being the Lord is far better than suffering in the body on earth. However, they Paul and Hamlet both know that when life ends is not up to them. So Hamlet keeps on going and so does Paul.
To me, there is a question behind the question to be or not to be. That question is “to know or not to know”. That is truly the question. And just as was with Hamlet and Paul, there are different levels of knowing.
As of March of this year, Facebook reported that it has 2.99 billion users worldwide, Twitter has around 450 million monthly active users, Snapchat has 375 million daily active users, and Instagram has over 2.35 billion daily active users. Of the 8 billion people on the globe, it is believed that 4.9 billion of them are using social media in some way.
We can know people through social media and how we know people has changed. Through social media we begin to know people at a distance. I can put up all the things I’m interested in, but do those things really build a relationship of knowing? People may be informed about me, but do they truly know me?
Think about a bit. When you or I look through someone’s Facebook page, when we scroll through someone’s social media posts … we are engaging in a one-sided relationship. When I see something I’m are interested in, I might stop and start a conversation or leave a remark. That’s a good thing. But at the same time, I have the freedom to stop whenever I want. Instead of listening to a lengthy conversation about something, I can just skip on over that topic and jump to something else which grabs my attention. We shape the person according to our interests, seeing what it is we want to see, ignoring the things we don’t want to see, and spending as much time as we want on the things we find to be interesting and as little time on the things we don’t feel are as important.
Go from knowing someone on social media to knowing a person up close. There is a deeper kind of knowing which happens when experiences are shared. There is a huge difference between looking at a video of a trip to the ball game and being in the video clip of that ball game. When we are in that video, we are a part of the action. The day doesn’t end after the guy selling hot dogs shows up and the video ends. Instead, we enjoy that hot dog, watch the game, go back to the car, swing by Dunkin on the way home, and engage in all of the emotions and conversations which happen when you go with someone to the ball park. These kinds of interactions build relationships. Personal presence and shared experiences matter. They make for a relationship where you know a person more fully even as you are more fully known to them.
All this is important and ties in to our gospel reading where Jesus is praying that we will know Him. But the question is … how do we know Jesus? To know or not to know? Do we know Him up close and personal or do we not know Him personally and keep Him at a distance?
You see, Jesus came to reveal His Father to us, to you and me. What Jesus revealed was not informational, it was not meant for us to be at a distance, but rather what Jesus revealed was relational, up close and personal. God the Heavenly Father send His Son to bring eternal life. Eternal life, for Jesus, is personal, it’s a relationship with God. Listen again to what Jesus says about eternal life. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Jesus asks you and me to think of eternal life, not in the terms of time, as being a long time, as forever. Instead Jesus asks us to think about eternal life in terms of a relationship. For Jesus, eternal life is not merely the absence of death, but instead it is the presence of God in your life forever.
Jesus has come to bring each of us into a never-ending relationship with His Father. In this never-ending relationship, we know, deeply know the Father, and Jesus who the Father has sent. This relationship with Jesus is not a one-sided relationship. It is not one of information on who He is but it is one of formation by the Holy Spirit. Jesus sends His Spirit to us to bring us to Him and He brings us back to His Father. Jesus sends His Spirit to us so that we may deeply, up close and personally know God.
Notice the intimacy, the closeness in this experience of knowing God. God calls His people His treasured possessions. You are God the Father’s treasured possession. As His treasured possession, He wants you to know Him personally. This is exactly why He sent Jesus to die for us! This is exactly why Jesus rises from the dead and restores our relationship with Him. Jesus sends His Spirit to us so that we would hear His voice and be restored to an eternal relationship with God. A relationship where we know God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and are one with them as God is one.
To know or not to know? To truly know, our knowledge of God is intimate, it’s personal, and is an experience. Jesus shared in our experience of death so that we might share His experience of life.
When I hear this I can’t help but go back to Paul and what says in Romans 6, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:3-4). You are uniquely connected to Christ in a very personal way.
Living in a world with many religions, it’s tempting and it’s easy to reduce knowing God to information. We can compare and contrast world religions and even individual religions. When we do this, we end up knowing information about God. We can list His attributes, His characteristics. We can explain His teachings. We can classify His work. That is stuff that is up here in our heads. That which even Satan can list a few things of.
But God the Father sent His Son to live and be among us so that we might not just have head knowledge, have one-sided knowledge of Him. He didn’t send Jesus so that you and I could stand idly by, compare religions, and decide which one you want to follow. No, God the Father sent Jesus so that you might know Jesus here in your hearts, that you might experience His claim on your lives, so that you might be known by Him, so that you are forgiven by Him, and so that you know and believe in your hearts that you will be raised to a new life in Him.
To know or not to know? That is the question. Jesus has come so that we might know Him, not from a distance, but up-close and personal as He is living and active in our lives. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.