Thursday, April 13, 2006

God::Incomprehensible

I said last week that I would blog through our Sunday school study of A.W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy. I think it will be fruitful for me to go back through and recount what I'm learning--and I pray it will be edifying to you as well! After our introduction two weeks ago, last week's lesson was on the incomprehensibility of God. This fundamental truth colors the way we study all of God's other attributes.

Before studying the character of God, we have to start with a full measure of humility. In essence, we have to understand from the outset that we cannot understand. God is transcendent--wholly other than us, high and lifted up above us--and so any way that He reveals Himself to us is by necessity limited. Our finite minds cannot comprehend Him as He is, so He condescends to relate to us in terms we can better understand. But He is so much more!

We can say, "God is loving" or "God is just"--but in doing so, we sometimes tend to think of Him as "the most loving of all creatures." To think this way is dangerous. God is not merely the highest of all created beings. Though we are made in His image, we reflect only a tiny part of His image. He is not simply the most just of all beings--He IS justice itself.

Tozer explains:
Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

When Moses was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Law from the LORD, the Israelites wanted to reduce God in this way. They wanted a god they could see and touch and fully understand. So they told Aaron: "Make us a god." We must not do this--we cannot make God in our image!

But don't believe that because you don't bow to a golden calf, you are immune to idolatry, Tozer warns:

Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.

Avoiding "thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him" starts with understanding that He is above and beyond even our highest thoughts. He is incomprehensible. So what does that mean? Is He unknowable?

NO! The Bible says we can and must know Him--in fact, we will be held responsible for knowing Him and knowing that He alone is God. Psalm 100:3 says it simply: "Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture." God has made Himself known to us through the natural world of creation, through His Word, and through Jesus Christ.

In Christ, God provided a relational, personal way to know Him. To know Jesus Christ is to know the Father. And knowing Him sets us free! He replaces our rebellious hearts of stone and says, "I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD" (Jeremiah 24:7).

Yet the Bible also teaches that in some ways, God is beyond our knowledge. His thoughts and ways are not ours; His are far higher. "Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom" (Psalm 145:3).

If anyone could explain God, you'd think Paul could. But after three complicated and difficult chapters of theology in Romans 9-11, Paul concludes by saying, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34). It's as though he's saying, "I've just explained it all to you--and yet I don't understand it! God is far bigger than I can comprehend!

I love this quote from Charles Spurgeon:
As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God. A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite; if we could understand him, then were he not divine.
It is a paradox. We can (and must!) know God, but we cannot know Him PERFECTLY, FULLY, COMPLETELY. And I am glad! For if I could dissect God and package Him neatly in a box, He would not be God at all. Nichole Nordeman's lyrics are beautiful here:

It is easy to insist
On what is packaged and precise
And dismiss the clear suspicion
That You're bigger than we'd like
It is tempting to regard You as familiar
In so many ways
I know I can't explain You
I would not even try to
And yet it's clear that You are here beside me
I marvel and I wonder
So near and somehow still so far
What makes You who You are?
--"Who You Are" (from the album Wide Eyed)
The bottom line: We have to be humble. Though we can gain much from studying the attributes of God, we can never say, "I have God all figured out." There will always be more and deeper riches of God to explore and discover--even in Heaven!

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Amen! But the desire to know Him is as awesome a mystery asEis His attributes that He has chosen to reveal to us. I am really enjoying the commentary on the adult class. It's sort of like being there. Thanks for your desire to share. Your commitment to explain these deep lessons is encouraging to me. What a testimony to the faith and the desire our Lord has given to you.

Amy said...

Elizabeth, that's an interesting thought--that the desire to know Him is awesome.

This actually touches on another Tozer quote that I didn't have room to include--the post is already too long to keep most readers' attention, I'm afraid :) Here it is:

"The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its Source. How can this be realized?
"The answer of the Bible is simply 'through Jesus Christ our Lord.'"

What wondrous love is this--that God would come the full distance to fallen man with our darkened hearts of stone, and pour out His grace in such a way that 1) causes us to want to know Him and then 2) enables us to know Him!

That's why I love the Jeremiah verse I quoted: "I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD."