Knowing and Marveling at God

 

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.

1 CHRONICLES 29:11

 

We can know there is a God. There is sufficient evidence in nature (existence, design, etc.) and Scripture (perfection in historical, geographical, and prophetic claims) to demonstrate that the God of the Bible does exist and that he has communicated to us through his word. That is the work of apologetics.

Once we are intrigued by the reality of God, we should begin to ask what we can know about God. There will be some things we can understand because God made us like himself. There will also be some things which we cannot understand because God is so much more than we are. There are some attributes of God which are knowable and others which are incomprehensible.

 

God’s Incomprehensibility

God cannot be fully understood by people because he is the infinite Creator God and we are the finite people He created. God cannot be comprehended because, “a) Insofar as we can have only an incomplete understanding of an infinite being. b) Insofar as we cannot give a definition of God but only a description.[1] God is incomprehensible “not in the sense that logic is somehow different for him from what it is for us, so that we cannot follow the workings of his mind at all, but in the sense that we can never understand him fully, just because he is infinite and we are finite.”[2]

No one has ever seen God and lived (Exodus 33:20; Leviticus 16:2). Compared to our limited capabilities and dwelling place, God dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16; John 1:18). As 1 Corinthians 2:11 says, “So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

God’s incomprehensibility is further distanced from us by our sinfulness. As we are given to pursue sin, God is increasingly hidden from our view. The Bible says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). In Romans 7:22-23 Paul described this struggle of pursuing sin and being therefore blinded to God, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Likewise, James 4:7-8 tells us to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

 

God’s Knowability

Theology is mystery. But theology also involves the revealing of the mysteries of God. Just as Abraham asked God for his name in order to know what type of being he is, we search the Scriptures to learn as much as we can about God’s own nature.

The Bible presents God as one who wants to be in a relationship with mankind. We can understand something of God. “Scripture teaches this: ‘that we may know the One who is true” (1 John 5:20), although it also reminds us of the limited character of our knowledge (Matt 11:25).”[3] He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). He spoke to Abraham as a visitor. He spoke to Moses as through the burning bush but also a friend speaks to a friend. God wants us to know him. God has “set eternity in our hearts.” In fact, it is difficult to conceive of world history without considering all mankind’s desire to know and be known by God. Calvin wrote of this “memory” of the Divine. He wrote:

That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service. Certainly, if there is any quarter where it may be supposed that God is unknown, the most likely for such an instance to exist is among the dullest tribes farthest removed from civilisation. But, as a heathen tells us, D6 there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is a God. Even those who, in other respects, seem to differ least from the lower animals, constantly retain some sense of religion; so thoroughly has this common conviction possessed the mind, so firmly is it stamped on the breasts of all men. Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart. Nay, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact.[4]

God chose to dwell among his people, first in the Garden, then in the tabernacle, then again in the Temple of Jerusalem. These temple dwellings were all precursors to Jesus being the temple on earth (John 1:14). Through Christ, God was known to mankind (John 17:3). Jesus is special in all God’s revelations of himself because Jesus is divine (John 1:1) and therefore equal to the Father in every way. Colossians 2:9 says, “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ” (CSB).

The relationship which God desires to have with his people is one in which he is sovereign. When Abraham asked God’s name, God said his name was “I AM.” Perhaps it is helpful to remember that this phrase “I AM” was understood and spoken as LORD.

Our Jewish friends today often use Deuteronomy 6:4–5 as a kind of confession of faith: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is a confession of lordship. There is only one God, and he is Yahweh, the Lord. The Christians of the New Testament also confessed lordship: Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). We should notice, too, that over and over again in Scripture, God says he is going to do this or that so that people “shall know that I am the Lord” (as Ex. 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:22; 14:4; 29:46; Isa. 45:6; 49:23, 26; Jer. 16:21; 24:7; etc.). So we may say that “God is Lord” is the fundamental confession of the people of God in the Old Testament. The fundamental confession of the New Testament people of God is “Jesus is Lord.” That is a way of summarizing the main content of the Bible: “God is Lord” is the message of the Old Testament; “Jesus is Lord” is the message of the New Testament.[5]

If we are going to understand anything about God, we must first understand that he is our LORD. Being LORD means that he is our Creator. He is our Ruler. He is our Provider. He is our Savior. He is our King, and one day his children will be with him in his eternal abode.

 

From Theology to Doxology

Studying the nature of God should lead us to praise God. Either our hearts will be drawn to him or our hearts will be hardened against him from the study of his nature. We should be grateful that the God who transcends us in every way wants to know us and be known to us.

I believe that some of our favorite hymns are written to worship the incomprehensible God who came near to us. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” That is why we still love to sing:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Saviour reigns: let men their songs employ while fields and floods rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.

The more we study God, the more we are dissatisfied with ourselves and our own glory and drawn to him and his glory.

No man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty.[6]

 

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 1.

[2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 51.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 1.

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

[5] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 7.

[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

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