Dear People of Low’s,
On July 17, 2020, an influential leader in both British and American Christianity passed away. J. I. Packer, while not a televangelist or mega-church pastor, likely influenced far more people to commit to following Christ than any of them. Packer was born in Great Britain but spent much of his time teaching in Canada, as well as preaching and teaching worldwide. Born July 22, 1926, Packer’s family were regular attenders of the local Anglican parish but not particularly committed to the Christian faith. At the age of 7, Packer, often taunted by fellow students for his devotion to reading, suffered a head injury when running away from bullies who chased him out of the schoolyard and into the street, where he collided with a bread truck. The resulting dent in his head remained with him for the rest of his life and was a good conversation starter. At the age of 11, while hoping for a bicycle as a birthday present, Packer was instead presented with a typewriter. The typewriter led young Packer to writing, and he continued to use a typewriter until his retirement in 2016. It would be though writing that Packer would exert his greatest influence in the world.
Packer excelled at his studies, earning a doctorate from Oxford University. In 1944 while at Oxford Packer attended an evangelistic meeting on campus and made a commitment to Christ. Packer served an Anglican parish for a time but later discovered a great love of teaching and speaking to student groups, and he pursued this calling for many years, eventually retiring from Regent University in British Columbia.
Packer sold over 3 million copies of books on a multitude of topics related to Christianity. While Packer was an intellectual, he aimed his books at people from all walks of life who were either seeking Christ or endeavoring to grow in their faith. His most famous book, Knowing God, was published in 1973 and has been translated into a dozen languages. It has sold a million and a half copies and is one of the most influential Christian books of all time. I read the book while I was in college forty years ago and it greatly informed by own Christian life.
Packer firmly believed that the “main business” of the Christian in this lifetime is to know God, and that when we seek to know God “most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” Packer felt that ignorance of God led to weak Christians and weak churches, and sought to write a primer for the Christian faith that would demonstrate that God was not distant and unknowable. He wanted Christians to love God with their hearts and their minds, but Packer recognized the difficulties of maintaining faith in Christ when so much within and outside us challenges or questions the Christian faith. For instance, Packer addressed the issue of waiting on guidance from God:
“Wait on the Lord" is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.
In speaking of God’s love for us, a love we don’t deserve, Packer wrote: There is tremendous relief in knowing His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
I pray that in these uncertain times you will rest in the knowledge of God’s unconditional love for you, and that you will seek to know the God of the universe, the God who wants good for you.
God loves you and so do I, Pastor John Mark