Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Post # 7 The Doctrine Of God - By Nature God Can Never Be Fully Comprehended, Yet He Can Be Truly Known


    In our last post, we noted that in order for us to know anything about God, as well as anything about  anything, God chose to reveal Himself or make Himself known in the general revelation of creation and the conscience and through the special revelation of Scripture. When God created Adam and Eve, He designed them with the capability to know, understand, and discover truth about our world, as well as themselves. He did this by creating them in what the Bible calls "His image" (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1). 

    In having the capacity to understand anything, mankind as God's "image bearers" could also make sense of God's revelation of Himself. The design of mankind enables human reasoning and God's revelation to fit like hand and glove. Reason without revelation is in the dark. Revelation with no reasoner to receive it remains closed off to creatures. Even after the Fall, human beings still retain this capacity to know things about God (see Genesis 9:6). It is in the Holy Spirit's work of salvation in regeneration by faith that the sinner is awakened. Once the sinner has been "awakened" and raised spiritually from death to life (Ephesians 2:1-3), the simultaneous response of faith and repentance springs forth (John 1:12-13; Acts 16:14; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). It is in the work of regeneration in saving faith that sinners go from merely "knowing about God" to "knowing the true and living God, and Jesus Christ Whom He sent" (see John 17:3).     

     In this post, we want to explore why it was necessary for God to self-disclose Himself in the first place. 

God by nature cannot be fully comprehended.

    Whenever we talk about God in regards to what He is (His nature) and how He is (His attributes), we find that Scripture speaks of Him as eternal (without beginning and end, see Psalm 90:2) and infinite (without limitations in power, presence, and knowledge in regards to what agrees with His Holy nature, see Psalm 139:1-7). Such truths about God as His infinity and eternality point to what theologians call "God's incomprehensibility". This term "incomprehensible" derives from a Latin term that literally means "unable to draw a boundary or a circle around something". Put in modern terms, God cannot be put in a mental box of our making. A God who can be "boxed" so-to-speak is not worthy of our worship. 

    Theologian Wayne Grudem describes God's incomprehensibility as follows,

"Because God is infinite and we are finite or limited, we can never fully understand God. In this sense God is said to be incomprehensible, where the term incomprehensible is used with an older and less common sense, 'unable to be fully understood." 

Grudem later notes,

"It is not true to say that God is unable to be understood, but it true to say that He cannot be understood fully or exhaustively."

    The Bible speaks quite a bit about God's incomprehensibility. Psalm 145:3 tells us for instance about God's greatness as unsearchable "Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable." Other examples, such as Psalm 139:6; 147:5; and Romans 11:33-35, tell us of God's knowledge, wisdom, and ways being incapable of full comprehension by mankind. As I noted earlier, reason without revelation remains in the dark; and revelation without a reasoner to target remains closed off.  

    The Old Testament prophets speak of God's Divine incomprehensibility. Job talks of how God's glory, power, and providence is truly known by him, yet the totality of such glory, power, and providence cannot be "searched" or "traced" (see Job 11:7-9; 26:14; 37:5). Isaiah writes about how God's incomprehensibility of His nature explains why we need Him to stoop down to us in revelation in Isaiah 55:8-11,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."

    The late R.C. Sproul explains why we as human beings cannot fully comprehend God,

"Incomprehensibility is related to a key tenet of the Protestant Reformation—the finite cannot contain (or grasp) the infinite. Human beings are finite creatures, so our minds always work from a finite perspective. We live, move, and have our being on a finite plane, but God lives, moves, and has His being in infinity. Our finite understanding cannot contain an infinite subject; thus, God is incomprehensible. This concept represents a check and balance to warn us lest we think we have captured altogether and mastered in every detail the things of God. Our finitude always limits our understanding of God."

Nevertheless, we can truly know things about God and in salvation, we can truly know Him.

    Theologian Wayne Grudem gives this practical point of truly knowing God,

"Here God says that the source of our joy and sense of importance ought to come not from our own abilities or possessions but from the fact that we know him."

    God's incomperehensibililty gives us reason for dependence and worship of Him. As I noted earlier,  God is not a God that can be put in a box. The fact God's total being exceeds our ability to master or comprehend Him leaves only one legitimate way to respond - worship.  

    The prophet Jeremiah writes these words about how this incomprehensibile God as truly knowable in in Jeremiah 9:23-24,

"Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord."

    Whenever you consider the worship scenes of God by the angels in Heaven or when He manifested His glory to His prophets here on earth (Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; Revelation 4-5), the overwhelming fullness of His very being, far exceeding the bounderies of angelic and human intellect, nevertheless prompts them to worship Him who "dwells in unapproachable light, which no man has seen or can see"(1 Timothy 6:15-16). 

    What is equally remarkable about the worship of God by His people is that they truly know Him. To know God is at the heart of the gift of eternal life in salvation (John 17:3). 

Closing thoughts

    In conclusion then, God is incomprehensibile in regards to our capability to comprehend the unending scale and extent of His being and attributes. Nevertheless, God in His grace Has chosen to stoop down to His creation, and human beings in particular (this "stooping down" is what theologians refer to as "God's condescension", literally meaning "to stopp down"). Many a theologian has used the analogy of how a mother will talk in "baby talk" to her little child for the sake of communicating with the little one to illustrate how an otherwise incomprehensibile God condescends in revelation so that we can truly know Him. 

    In our next post, we will begin to consider God's Divine attributes.