Transcendent & Incomprehensible
God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways; He does great things beyond our understanding …. God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power
Job 37:5 & 23
This is what the high and exalted One says – He who lives forever, whose Name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit’
It seems strange to conclude this series with a study on the fact that in the final analysis we can’t really know God! A more careful way of putting it would be to say we can’t know Him exhaustively, though what we can know of Him we can know truly and reliably. We finish in an atmosphere of appropriate humility. Our whole series – and what it represents of our quest to know our God - has been a privilege granted only through the gracious self-disclosure of the One whose ‘greatness no-one can fathom’ (Ps.145:3).
The limitations of our createdness (He is greater than anything the human mind can conceive) are compounded by the reality of our sinfulness, which render in us a yearning to turn away from the Living God, and a compulsion to suppress all we know of Him (Rom.1:18-19; I Cor.1:21). In addition, there are powerful spiritual forces at work to obscure our vision of God (II Cor.4:4). The result is that ‘No-one knows the Father except the Son’, then before we despair, ‘…and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him’ (Matt.11:27, see also John 1:18, Col.1:15 Heb.1:3). God is unknown to us apart from Jesus Christ. Only God could know God fully and reveal Him meaningfully. The Spirit at work in us enables us to joyfully accept that revelation as truth (I Cor.2:14). While we ‘know only in part’ (I Cor.13:12) what we do know is both true and secure. We are created in His Image and therefore have the capacity to know Him, and yet there is an immensity to God that exceeds our finite capacity to grasp. He is incomprehensible, but not unintelligible.
This does not mean His is remote and isolated. He lives ‘in the high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit’ (Is.57:15). He has spoken through the prophets, and also through His Son; but we are like infants struggling to understand a genius who is restrained by His having to speak to us in our terms. ‘He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed’ (Job.9:12).
This guards us against the naïve reductionism (if not arrogance) that leaves us thinking we have learned all there is to know about Christianity. When we act and speak as if this were the case, it is more likely that we haven’t even learned enough of God to realise how deeply impoverished our vision of Him is. This yearning to know the unknowable, and to comprehend the incomprehensible that marks healthy Christian spirituality sounds like it could be a recipe for frustration. ‘Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above – what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below – what can you know?’ (Job.11:7-8). But it is God who has put it into our heart to seek Him, and seek Him more fully. The realisation of His immensity draws us into an ever increasing investigation of Him and an ever more wondering worship, as we discover Him to be far more glorious that we ever envisaged. It guards us against our terminal tendency to reduce God to manageable terms. It gives us pause for thought before we ask the banal questions that compose so much of our theological discourse (see Job 38-41). With cords of love we delight to be drawn in humble awe and meek reverence before the glory of ‘the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To Him be honour and might for ever, Amen’ (I Tim.6:15-16). Few things would capture our hearts and imaginations more compellingly, and revolutionise the atmosphere of our services of Divine worship more powerfully than to realise that when we have conceived all we can, and said all we can, and sung all we can, we have only begun to paddle in the infinite enormity of the glory and the beauty of our God. For we realise now that God transcends everything we have at our disposal to understand Him fully. He is all that He is without limit. He is measureless, boundless and ceaseless.
‘Amen! Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’ (Rev.7:12). Perhaps begin the study with a time of prayerful worship?
Sometimes people say that heaven sounds boring. How does the fact that God is infinitely vast in His being help us deal with this objection?
What would you say to someone who didn’t share your insatiable passion to know God as fully as you possibly could?
…and what about someone who said this was all too intellectual for them?
How can we be confident that what we know of God is true and right?
A W Tozer wrote: ‘In the awful abyss of the Divine being may lie attributes of which we know nothing, and which can have no meaning for us, just as the attributes of mercy and grace have no personal meaning for the seraphim and cherubim’
The Knowledge of the Holy, p.65
What do you think of this? Do you agree or disagree? Does this prospect excite you, or disturb you?
How has this series of Bible Studies and sermons challenged your assumptions about who you think God is? Have they lead to a deeper and more authentic worship and devotion? Why / why not?
Thinking ahead to our next series on the doctrine of creation, we ponder the possibility that so much of God’s being and character would never have been displayed if creation was not what it is. If there had been no sin, we would never have witnessed the patience and longsuffering of God; if no evil, we’d never have appreciated the goodness of God; if no suffering, the compassion of God would never need to be revealed; if no transgression, then the Justice and wrath of God would have been forever hidden.
Do you think it is worth living in a world such as this, if it means the glory of God is revealed in the depth and richness that it is? Why / why not?
& for further reflection
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise. His greatness, no-one can fathom. One generation commends your work to another. They tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty – I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works – and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. All your people praise you LORD; your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom. Your kingdom is and everlasting Kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.
A Psalm of Praise. Of David.
…or go all the way to v.21 if you think you can!