• The Incomprehensibility of God

    Posted Apr 15th, 2012 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Believe What We Believe With | No Comments

    At the heart of any theological enterprise is the knowledge of God.  To know God is “life itself” (Bavinck).  There is one small problem, though.  How can the creature know the Creator?  God’s ways are unfathomable and his judgments are unsearchable (Rom. 11:33).  No one has ever known his mind and he has never sought counsel from any of us (Rom. 11:34).  He is the Lord and his “greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3).   He is “invisible” (1 Tim. 1:17), “whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16) and who dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16).  To describe God as unsearchable, unapproachable, and invisible is to speak more like a contemporary agnostic than a contemporary Christian.  Contemporary Christians have all but stopped emphasizing the incomprehensibility of God in exchange for the comprehensibility of God.  Bavinck’s comments about rationalism are insightful and sadly descriptive of our age.  “It is as if people had lost all sense of the majesty and grandeur of God.  Disregarding all so-called metaphysical questions, people rushed on to the will of God in order to know and do it.  Eternal life, they maintained, does not consist in knowing God but in doing his will.”  Sound familiar?  Christianity is about “deeds not creeds” we are told.  This is why current preaching is dominated by how-to approaches to Christianity and living rather than extended reflections upon the majesty of God.

    But God is not like us.  God is not just like me but bigger, stronger, and smarter.  God is not like me on steroids.  Rather God is altogether different.  He is holy. He is majestic.  He is exalted.  In a word, he is transcendent.  This is why Reformed theologians have always stated, “the finite cannot contain the infinite.”  We have been clear that “God has no name” and that “God cannot be defined.”  Any attempt to name God or to define him is always a mere scratch of the surface.  God’s essence is hidden from us.  “Of ourselves we know no more about the nature of God than beetles know about the nature of humans.”  Even our knowledge of God is analogical and never equivocal.  What that means is that our knowledge is not merely quantitatively different, but that it is radically qualitatively different too.

    At the heart of any theological enterprise is the knowledge of God.  To know God is “life itself”.Bavinck

    This, however, poses a problem.  How can a being that is so radically different from me be known?  How can knowing God be life itself and yet God be unknowable?  In speaking like this we need to remember that he can be apprehended, just not comprehended.  We need to keep in mind that there is some knowledge of God, but no thorough grasp of God (Bavinck).  As Augustine put it, “We are speaking of God.  Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend?  For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend.  Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge.  To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.” 

    Next week we will bring these two together.  The incomprehensibility of God and the knowledge of God meet uniquely in Christ

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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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