20 September 2017

The “knowability” of God

Zophar, one of Job’s so called comforters asked the question “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?

They are higher than the heavens – what can you do?

They are deeper than the depths of the grave – what can you know?” Job 11:7-8

As we move on to think about what God is like we must first begin by considering the difficulty that is presented to us by the sheer size of that ask.

How as mere creatures of dust can we even remotely understand the being and appreciate the characteristics of God? Is there any possibility of finite creatures comprehending the Infinite Creator?

There is some truth in Zophar’s searching question. We cannot fathom the mysteries of God. We cannot probe the limits of the Almighty.

His last little question is the really important one – “what can you know?”

It would however be seriously pessimistic to be forced to confess that we can really know nothing about God. Just to believe that God exists but not to understand anything about Him would be sheer frustration.

We must admit that there are limitations to our understanding of God. And these in spite of the revelations that God has given to us. The highest humanity is only on the fringe of the discovery of God and these human beings who have known God through the Son for many years would confess the poverty of their understanding of God.

Nevertheless we affirm that God is “knowable,” in spite of the limitations and restrictions placed on us.

A. The Limitations.

“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised and His greatness is unsearchable” Ps. 145:3.

“Great is our Lord and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure” Ps. 147:5.

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is high, I cannot attain it” Ps. 139:6.

“No one comprehends the things of God except the Spirit of God” 1 Cor. 2:11.

God’s greatness is unsearchable – unfathomable.

God’s understanding is beyond measure.

God’s knowledge is “too wonderful.”

These are all inspired statements from Scripture. They are therefore correct in what they say.

They tell us that any one of these “qualities” of God is unable to be researched fully. We will never know all there is to know about God’s power or knowledge or any other quality.

That is never to say that we can know nothing about any of these qualities. We assuredly affirm that we can know a little about God’s knowledge and His power. We also affirm that we can “increase in the knowledge of God” Col. 1:10. We cannot know all there is to know about any of God’s qualities but we can know a little about each of them and also develop our knowledge of them continually as we read the Word of God and hold communion with God in prayer. All Christians should be constantly growing in their understanding of God.

It is not just in this life that we progress in our knowledge of God but also in eternity. Eternity in heaven will be taken up with discovering more about the glory of God and worshipping God in a deeper and more conscious environment. Even so we will never know all there is to know about God since He is Infinite and we are finite.

B. The Realities.

In spite of the limitations we would say that although our knowledge of God may not be exhaustive, it is nevertheless an accurate knowledge. We don’t know all there is to know about God’s greatness but what we do know is accurate and true. When we get to heaven we will have a much more expansive knowledge but it will not be in such a way as to say that what we know of God in this life was in any way wrong.

We can know some of God’s thoughts for example. We find them in the Scriptures. They are true and accurate.

As well as accurately knowing things about God we also profess to know God Himself.

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories, glory in this that he understands and knows Me” Jer. 9:23.

“And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” John 17:3.

We as evangelical Christians claim to both know about God and also know God. We do not claim to know all there is to know about God but we do claim accuracy in what we do know and also claim a knowledge of God at a relationship level.

We therefore affirm that:

  • I. We can know accurate and true things about God.
  • II. God is “knowable.”
  • III. We can grow in our knowledge of God as a daily Christian experience.
  • IV. We will grow in our understanding of God as a perennial eternal experience.

C. Incommunicable Attributes.

Let’s consider one aspect of God’s Being.

1. Independence of self-existence.

Definition: ‘God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we, and the rest of creation, can glorify Him and bring Him joy.’

God Himself spoke to Job, “Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” Job 41:11. God spoke to the Psalmist, “I have no need of a bull from your stall …..

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine” Ps. 50:9, 12

Paul declared in the city of Athens, “ The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” Acts 17:24-25.

What we have to accept is the reality that God is self sufficient. God does not need to receive anything from His creation or from us as humans in order to help Him to survive. God does not require anything from any being outside of Himself in order to make Himself complete, fulfilled or happy. The truth of the independence of God is that God is perfectly satisfied with His own being.

This truth may cut across what we often unconsciously believe; that God needs us. The only viable reason for God ever to consider making man was, we sometimes feel that God was lonely or lacking in fulfilment. Because of this, God felt that is was necessary for Him to create human beings with intelligence and the capacity to worship so that God could cure His loneliness by having fellowship with men and women. It is actually rather difficult to come up with a valid reason why God should have bothered with human beings, given that His omniscience would have informed Him that we would make a mess of His plans.

Whatever God’s reason for creating mankind was, it could not have been that God needed us because in Himself He was self sufficient. The Three Persons of the Trinity enjoyed an eternal, harmonious fulfilled state of being. Jesus often referred to that eternal glorious state that He was part of before His voluntary humiliation to become man, John 17:5, 24.

Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 2 Part 2. “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness in and to Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory, in, by, unto and upon them; He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.”

Set against this awesome truth is the encouraging fact that we do matter to God. Having decided to create us God has now declared that He appreciates our fellowship. Life is not meaningless.

Grudem says “Although God did not have to create us, He chose to do so in a totally free choice. He decided that He would create us to glorify Him,” Eph. 1:11-12, Rev. 4:11.

This must now be the motivating factor in our Christian experience – to bring glory to God. Although God doesn’t need us to glorify Him, yet He has chosen to allow us to have this involvement. It is interesting to note that from the very earliest times after the Fall there were those who brought glory to God. Enoch walked with God and brought pleasure to, or pleased God.

God is pleased with those who live in a manner worthy of Him. God even delights in His people when they are loyal and faithful to Him, Is. 62:3-5.

Where are you in regard to your knowledge of God? Are you still with Zophar who remains cynical in his philosophy of the knowledge of God or are you now with the apostle Paul who declared knowing God in Jesus is the only basis to receiving eternal life?

John Matthews