It should be obvious that God is by definition incomprehensible, yet human beings, you and me included, somehow think we can comprehend him. This happens in subtle and not so subtle ways, but the pretension is the same. Somehow we think that our finite brains are capable of understanding the being of God, his ontology, the knowing of God, his epistemology, and his working, the how and why of it, both in creation and redemption (or re-creation). The ontological argument for God’s existence states that “God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.” Exactly. If we could conceive of anything greater he would not be God, he would be a figment of our imagination. Unfortunately, as sinners we are really good at creating a God that is a figment of our imagination. It just never bears any resemblance to the God who is actually there.
Non-Christians think God is pretty much just a more powerful human when they say things like, how could God do such and such, or if God were such and so he would never do this and that. They presume to think they can sit in judgment of God, or that their perspective on things is superior to God’s. It’s rather simple to point out that God is God, and they are not. You would think a little humility is in order, but at the heart of sinful pride is hubris, an arrogance that embraces Satan’s temptation to Eve, that we can be like God knowing Good and evil. That we get to call the shots, that we get to determine the ultimate meaning of things. Uh, we don’t. This short piece by the late, great R.C. Sproul is great primer on the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God.
Unfortunately, Christians are not immune from presuming upon a God we cannot comprehend, as if we can understand all the how’s and why’s of his working in the salvation of his people. This infects Christians of every tradition and every theological stripe, be they Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox, who get into trouble when they think they can explain God’s working in the most intricate detail, and are absolutely convinced they are absolutely right, and everyone else is absolutely wrong. I would suggest that such Christians need to spend more time meditating on Paul’s words in I Corinthians 8:2, so simple yet profound:
The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.
These words have gotten ever more important to me as I’ve gotten older because the more I know the more I realize I do not know. You might think Paul is justifying skepticism, that we can’t really know anything, or have confidence in that which we do know. Not at all. In the first verse he says “that we all have knowledge,” so having knowledge is not the problem. Rather, he is calling for epistemological humility, that our knowing is not about us, or that we do not possess knowledge as if we owned it. The context of knowledge to Paul is love, or as he says, “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
Growing in knowledge is a consistent biblical imperative, so he isn’t saying “ignorance is bliss,” but that our knowledge is to be used to love others. As we contemplate the incomprehensibility of God, it is much easier to put ourselves and what we know in the proper context of the greatest commandment, loving God, ourselves, and others. We will also realize that what we know is only known by the grace of God, and that our knowledge is infinitesimal compared to he who is the source of all knowledge. It is hard to be arrogant when we realize just how ignorant we all really are, which is why we live by faith, trust, in the God who knows us, and not what we know.
Update: I was talking to my son about this post last night, and told him something I should have included here. It’s so obvious, but sinful human beings often miss it. If we could in any way fully comprehend God, he could only be as big as our minds, only as big as something our finite, limited, and ignorant brains could conceive. In other words, that conception could never be God.