Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Post # 16 The Doctrine of God - God's Invisibility



    As we continue in our study of the doctrine of God, let's be reminded of where we have traveled in our journey through this important doctrine. 

1. First, we noted God's knowability, existence, and incomprehensibility. These three starting points all have in common God's act of Divine revelation - that is, making known what was previously unknown. God's self-disclosure of Himself in creation and the conscience is what we call "general revelation", meaning everyone born in this world has innate knowledge "about God". 

    In "special revelation", God makes known His will and identity through the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is special revelation that the Holy Spirit uses to generate salvation and bring about "knowledge of God". We explored these truths in posts #1-#3.

2. It was then in posts #4 to the present post that we turned our attention to God's being as understood through His attributes. 

    God's attributes are His being in action. By acting forth in His Divine essence through His perfections (attributes), God relates to all He has made. He wonderously shines forth in these attributes within Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

    God's being and attributes are of the same "stuff"or substance, with no division. God's attributes are not "bits and pieces of God", they are, by their expression, the very being of God Himself - acting, relating, and living. This union of God's being and attributes means God is not a mixed deity, comprised of parts of God here, parts of God there. Rather, He is "unmixed", He is a unity, a "simplex", to use a Latin term, or what theologians refer to as His "Divine simplicity". 

    God's unity or Divine simplicity reminds us that God's essence (being) is the same as His attributes, since each attribute is His essence in activity, expressing the fullness of that quality which He is by nature. Put plainly, Divine simplicity teaches that God's love, for example, is His essence in action as the loving God. God doesn't merely have love, He is love (by nature), as revealed in 1 John 4:16.

3. We then began to consider the two main categories assigned for the study of God's attributes. 

    The first of these are called "incommunicable attributes", meaning they are perfections which only God has and thus are not communicated or shared with His creatures. Such attributes as God's independence, unchangeableness, omnipresence, omniscience, infinity, eternality, and omnipotence are examples. 

    The second category of Divine attributes are what we call "communicable attributes". These are  those perfections which He shares with His creatures. For example, we have God's mercy, love, and goodness.  

Today's attribute - Divine invisibility. 

    As we turn our attention to God's attribute of Divine invisibility, I want to lay before the reader three ideas that we will use to navigate this important attribute of God. 

1. First, God cannot be comprehended by finite creatures in their minds (Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 6:3; Luke 10:22; John 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:17). 

2. Secondly, God cannot be clearly seen by the senses, since He is spiritual by nature (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 6:16). 

3. Thirdly, God cannot be captured by finite human ideas (i.e. He is transcendent, which is why idolatry is forbidden), (Exodus 20:1-4; 33:20; Jeremiah 10:23-24; Romans 11:33-35; 1 Timothy 6:16). 

    In short, we have the ideas of incomprehensibility, unseeability, and incomparability whenever we talk of the invisibility of God. 

    To use three analogies. I cannot look directly at the sun, since its brightness exceeds my eyes' ability to process the light (incomprehensibility). 

    I also cannot look directly at the sun to see its surface, since again its brightness, its radiation, exceed my ability to observe it directly. 

    Then lastly, I cannot capture the sun's total appearance in my eyes, since I would literally be blinded. 

    Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology, 2nd edition, page 222, defines God's invisibility as, "God's invisibility means that God's total essence, all of His spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself partially to us in this age and more fully in the age to come."

    If we take Grudem's definition and combine it with our three main ideas associated with Divine invisibility (God as incomprehensible, God as not clearly seen by the senses, God as not captured by human ideas), we can see how God's revelation to us is required. 

Ways God manifested Himself in Scripture 

   In Scripture, we often see God revealing Himself in figurative language, what theologian call "analogical language". God is by nature invisible, and thus for us to know Him, He needs to reveal Himself in such a way for us to understand and relate. 

    I've commented on this before in other posts, but it is worth repeating. When God reveals Himself, He does so in several ways (Hebrews 1:1-2 summarizes this). 

    First, He will sometimes express Himself by way of figurative or analogical language, whether by analogy to human body parts (for instance, God having a hand or face), human emotions (for instance, God described as grieving or laughing), or human actions (the places where God is described as "changing His mind"). Such language enables us to interract with this invisible God. This "language of analogy" or figurative language makes how we talk of God no less true, since in figurative language God is emphasizing relationship. 

    Then the second way God makes Himself known is using direct statements about Himself that convey one meaning that He and us would understand in the same sense. For example, when God is revealed as "infinite in understanding" (Psalm 145), we grasp the word "infinite" as meaning God's knowledge is without limits, the same meaning as He intended. Whenever the meaning is the same between the speaker and the hearer, we call this "univocal language", that is, everyone is understanding the same thing. 

    Other methods God has used in redemptive history to make Himself known are what we call "theophanies" or "Christophanies", that is, the various appearances of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, throughout the Old Testament. Christophanies includes His self-revelation as the Pillar of Fire, "The Word", or in those cases where He was disguised, such as the "Rock that followed the Jews". Writer Sinclair Ferguson has noted that when the Son appeared in Christophany, it was a sort of "dress rehearsal" for what would be His permanent self revelation in the incarnation.

    This segues to one more way the invisible God makes Himself known, and perhaps the most vital, and that of course is in the revelation of the Son by incarnation in the New Testament. Unlike the other methods, incarnation is now a permanent state of the Second Person of the Trinity as truly God and truly man (John 1:14). The incarnation of the Son of God includes His earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and  return. Remember, by nature, God is incomprehensible, unseeable, and not captured by human ideas. Unless He makes Himself known to us, we otherwise would not know Him or anything for that matter.

God's Divine invisiblity reminds us that God is God and everything else is created

    Whenever I consider God's Divine invisibility, I'm reminded of the theologian Cornelius Van Til's term "Creator/creature distinction". VanTil was a brilliant 20th century theologian who developed an entire school of Christian apologetics and aided greatly in communicating the truths of God's Word to an increasing secularized Western culture. In a letter he wrote to another theologian, he noted his notion of the importance of the "Creator/creation distinction",

"Starting with the Creator-creature distinction as basic to one’s thought one need not and in fact cannot after that discuss such concepts as time and eternity by themselves. By themselves they are abstractions. True, we can speak of them by themselves as we can speak of the justice of God by itself. But when we speak of the justice of God by itself, we always insist that it is the justice of God, that it is an attribute of God. The justice of God is therefore interwoven with the other attributes of God and with the being of God. So also with eternity. It is the eternity of God. And God is man’s creator. And time is characteristic of the created world."

God's Divine invisibility grounds true worship and guards against idolatry

    If we take our three ideas mentioned earlier, we can see why consideration of God's invisibility and maintaining the "Creator/creation" enables us to avoid idolatry and ground true worship. Exodus 20:1-4 gives us an Old Testament example,

"Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

    Even when God reveals Himself through His ultimate mode of revelation, the incarnation of the Son of God, we find Divine invisibility guarding us from idolatry and grounding true worship (John 4:24). In the New Testament, Jesus says for instance in John 5:37-39,

"And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 38 You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me."

    Jesus alone is the Mediator between an unseeable Father and finite us. As the Son of God, He shares in the Divine invisible nature as truly God. As a consequence of His incarnation, He shares in our finite, visible nature (John 1:14; Hebrews 1:1-3). This is one reason why through all eternity, Christians will truly see God, but only as He is mediated through the Son (John 14:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; Revelation 21:23). 

    God's Divine invisibility ever places God as our Creator, and we as His creatures. He is incomprehensible, incapable of perception by our senses, and incapable of being captured totally by our intellects. We are ever in a state of dependence, rather than independence. 

    We require God to reveal Himself to us audibly through the Scriptures, by His Spirit, and visually through the incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is symbolized by the Lord's Supper and emblemized by believer's baptism. God's Divine invisibility drives the Christian to true worship of Him, while avoiding the idolatry that attempts to domesticate God to a deity of our own making. 

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