Thursday, February 3, 2011

Essays to a Friend - Part Two of Three

II. The Incomprehensibility of God

You may ask: "How does God think? Do we know things in the same way?" I suggest that this is a misguided question, driven by remnants of Plato's thought, and an inappropriate desire to know about God apart from knowing God. Read on.

Psalm 40:5 - You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.

God is prolific, wondrous, and incomparable in His thoughts & deeds. However, the Psalmist is also very concerned with proclaiming God's work, although with the understanding that this task can never be fully discharged. Keep this in mind.

Isaiah 55:6-11-"Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah passes along a directive to seek the hidden God, to call on the Most High who dwells in the highest heaven while He is yet near. This seems odd enough at first blush. Then God freely offers the gospel to the man wicked in his ways, calling the unrighteous-thinking man to come to God, that He may have compassion (plainly offering the gospel to all). God then makes very clear His other-ness in thought and the unapproachable nature of His ways, clearly implying that men should think His other-thoughts and walk in His high-ways.

Plainly, this is impossible without Christ. Thankfully, there's the remainder of the chapter, saying that God's Word (both the gospel of repentance and the Incarnate Word who is the heart of that gospel) will do its good work, and the gospel will reach the elect and Christ will redeem His own. THIS DOES NOT negate the other-ness or high-ness of God's thoughts and ways. We are brought into them in Christ, but we are never told that they will get any simpler.

I might take a moment to hedge against a hyper-singular view of Scripture. What I mean is that a passage (like this one) has several layers of the same consonant meaning, but perhaps varying greatly in their depth or the time of their realization. For example, Psalm 2 meant a lot to the kingdom of Israel under David, but it means a lot more to us under Christ. The apostles were very "liberal" in their interpretation of the OT, but it was because they were seeing consonant meanings that were being fulfilled in Christ. It is, however, impossible for Scripture to contradict itself, since it is God-breathed. Between these guard rails - look for fulfillment in Christ - avoid contradiction, error, and confusion - we will do well to search Scripture to our fullest advantage in Christ. This, by the by, is the inoculant against excessive affection for the works of men. They are only helpful if they further our understanding of the glory and preeminence of Jesus of Nazareth. And we have by no means exhausted the scriptures!

Back to searching for information without searching for God. Job is a huge exposition of this theme, and the following limited excerpts hardly do it justice.

Job 35:9-11-“Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out;
they call for help because of the arm of the mighty.
But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
who gives songs in the night,
who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth
and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’

Job 36:22-26-"Behold, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed for him his way,
or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?

“Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.

Job 37:5-"God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend."

Read Job 38-41, also, if you haven't done so in a while.

Job 42:1-6-Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

The Job discourse is significant because it is an argument about the comprehensibility of God, which is answered in a thunderous divine self-disclosure. Job says: "I understand my Maker, and I know my rights, and I can't see how this is any good for me", and his friends answer "We understand our Maker, and He wouldn't do this for no reason, so what's your deal?" God (and Elihu) then say "None of you know God. If you did, you wouldn't be so impudently asinine as to impugn His motives and actions." Your best propositional constructs about God are matchsticks trying to fence a lion. If you assert "God must think propositionally", you seem to be walking very close to the territory of Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. Alternately, to fret that there are no propositions in the mind of God seems laughable. All truth is there, so propositional truth must be there. But to suppose that God puzzles through a syllogism and reaches a necessary consequence is to demean His unfathomable, immediate, pervasive, unique, and unutterable wisdom. It is not from wisdom that this line of inquiry is pursued.

Let's step back, though, and take stock of what we have: 66 books of God revealing His person and work, and a created universe declaring His glory and handiwork. Of course we are supposed to know God! But to know is not necessarily to comprehend. I can build a clock and comprehend its action, because every tooth of every gear is known to me. I can often be surprised by my wife, because though I know her pretty well, I don't come close to comprehending her. I am almost invariably surprised by God, because I barely know Him, and I cannot comprehend Him at all. But I want to know Him better, and my lack of comprehension is no obstacle to that, because He sets the terms of inquiry. If I follow His terms, He says I will know Him better.

John 14:18-24 - "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

All human knowledge is revelational. Anything that we know has been told to us, either by God in nature (science, &c.), or by God in Scripture. God condescends to reveal Himself in ways that are fruitful for us as men. God is One, simple and united. We are multiple, compound and divided. To inquire after compartments in God's thought is unwise and unwarranted. Of course you share thought-content with God (about fish and cats and wood and stone), but He is not a mere library of content. You can know truth (Jesus even says it will set you free), and God is the fount of all truth, because He is by nature true, but to imagine you share that nature because you share that truth is exceedingly dangerous. Truth shines on us; it radiates from God. It is the same truth, but you have it in a very different way than God does. There is no contradiction in this.

Psalm 46:10-11 - “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Let's leave the incomprehensibility of God there. If you are still troubled, search the Scriptures diligently, and pray. But SEARCH FOR CHRIST AND HIS GLORY. Therein is God revealed. If we look for an answer to a mere question, we are often disappointed. If we look for the Lord of Heaven and Earth to worship Him, we will meet Him and we may delight in Him and He in us.

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