the Incomprehensible ~ 20150823 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim
Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
Knowing the Incomprehensible;
Audio available at:
We are seeking
God, seeking to know God, to see what the Bible has to say about who
God is, what he is like. As we seek his face, see him for who he is,
we must learn to respond to him in worship and service and
thanksgiving. It is not enough just to know what he is like. We must
respond to him, interact with him. We must know him.
Last time we
ended with a prayer of longing for God from Psalm 63.
Psalm 63:1 O God,
you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my
flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no
water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your
power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in
your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as
with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful
lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the
watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow
of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your
right hand upholds me.
We long to know
God, but we need to ask the question, is this even possible? If God
is the all satisfying source of every good thing, if to know him is
to know true joy and fulfillment, can we know him? Is he knowable?
Meant to Know
As we saw last
time, the answer to this must be yes, at least in some sense.
According to Romans 1, we are expected to know him, and held
accountable for how we respond to what we know of him. We are under
God's wrath because we have irreverently and falsely suppressed the
truth about God.
Romans 1:19 For
what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has
shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely,
his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly
perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that
have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they
knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks
to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish
hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images ... 25
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and
worshiped and served the creature rather than the
Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. ...28 And since they did
not see fit to acknowledge God, ...
God can be
known, indeed he is known, because he has made himself known. Here
is a key principle that will help us throughout our endeavor to know
God. What we know of God is what God has made known to us. What can
be known is plain because God has shown it to us. What we know, we
know because of the self-revelation of God. Romans 1 is specifically
talking about what we can know about the Creator from looking at his
creation. His invisible attributes, his eternal power, his divine
nature are clearly perceived in the things that have been made. How
much clearer will our perception be if God has communicated
directly, in words, telling us what he is like! This is an amazing
truth, as Francis Schaeffer reminded us, 'he is there and he is not
silent. God has spoken. He wants to be known. He is a God who
communicates, who makes himself known.
Psalm 46:10 “Be
still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
God says in the
Jeremiah 31:33 For
this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after
those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I
will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they
shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his
neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,
declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will
remember their sin no more.”
God intends for
a relationship with his people. I will be there God and they will be
my people. They will know me. Paul prays for the church in Colossae.
so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you,
asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all
spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner
worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every
good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be
strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for
all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father,
who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in
We were meant to
know God, to be in relationship with God. From creation we were
intended to walk with God, to enjoy fellowship with him. That
relationship was severed when we rebelled against his good rule. But
now, because of the cross of Jesus, we can be always increasing in
the knowledge of God.
We are meant to
know God, but there are some obstacles to knowing him. Some of those
obstacles are on our side, and some are on his.
On our side, we
have a sin problem. Sin has damaged everything.
Isaiah 59:1 Behold,
the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear
dull, that it cannot hear; 2 but your iniquities have made a
separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his
face from you so that he does not hear.
Our sin has
severed our relationship with God. If God seems distant, it is
because we have pushed him away. We were meant to know God, but we
rejected his rule and questioned his goodness and love. We usurped
his authority and attempt to rule in his place, to run our own
lives. Our sin has hidden his face from us. The good news is that
through Jesus Christ, our sin can be taken away so that we can be
reconciled to God. But sin has left its mark on every part of our
being. Humanity is twisted, distorted because of the fall. We are
not as God intended us to be.
Romans 1:21 ...but
they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were
darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
Sin has tainted
our thinking and our feeling. We do not think as we ought to think.
Our ability to reason correctly has been affected.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to
What seems right
and reasonable to us may be very distant from what is truly right.
We need to maintain a healthy distrust of our own ability to think
clearly, especially when it comes to such a high subject as God.
Romans 1 tells us that we have a tendency to suppress the truth.
Our desires influence our perception. What we want God to be like
influences what we think of him. We need to remember that what can
be known about God is plain because God has made it known. The only
safe path is to let God define himself, and allow him to critique
and correct our inadequate views of him.
Our thinking is
distorted by sin, but also our desires.
Jeremiah 17:9 The
heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can
Our hearts are
twisted and sick. We cannot trust our own desires. Our desires are
deceitful, they lie to us. The things we want the most are not the
things that will truly satisfy. There is in our world a desperate
lack of desire to know God. If you look around at the people you
know, very few of them are interested in God at all. Very few are
interested in really knowing him. Some are interested in going to
heaven, or in doing something to gain his favor so that he will give
them some good thing, but very few are interested in knowing God. In
fact, the bible says that no one seeks God. No, not one (Rom.3:11).
If you find in your heart a hunger to know God, thank him for that!
God placed that desire for him in you. God is the author of that
Many people want
God to be different than he is. They want to re-define God in a way
that suits their fancy. They hold self up as the ultimate good, and
require God to submit to their ideas. They want to conform God to
their own image.
Our hearts and
our minds are distorted by sin. The gospel is the remedy!
Ephesians 4:17 Now
this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as
the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are
darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of
heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to
sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that
is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have
heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of
life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed
in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created
after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Our hearts are
softened and our minds are renewed as we are taught the truth that
is in Jesus. Sin is a major obstacle to knowing God. It is an
obstacle that has been overcome by the sacrifice of Jesus, but its
effect lingers, and we must continue to battle against it. But this
is all on our side. There are obstacles to knowing God that come
from God's side.
Even if we had
no sin, there would still be an enormous obstacle to knowing God.
Even when we are ultimately set free from our sin and see him face
to face, this obstacle will remain. And it is an obstacle rooted in
the very nature of God. It is the difficulty of the creature
attempting to understand the Creator; of the finite attempting to
grasp the Infinite; the temporal grappling with the Eternal; the eye
attempting to perceive the Invisible.
1 Timothy 6:15
...—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of
kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in
unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him
be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
invisible, unapproachable. That certainly does put a damper on our
Romans 11:33 Oh,
the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For
who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be
glory forever. Amen.
unsearchable, inscrutable. Who has known his mind? It is past
Psalm 145:1 I will
extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2
Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. 3
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is
Psalm 147:1 Praise
the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is
pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. ...5 Great is our Lord,
and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
Abundant. Words fall short to describe him. Moses described his
appearance on Mount Sinai.
And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the
mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in
darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the
midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form;
there was only a voice.
Fire wrapped in
darkness, cloud, and gloom. No visible form. Unapproachable light.
We have a big word to describe an even bigger concept.
Incomprehensibility. How many other 8 syllable words do you know?
God is incomprehensible. He is far beyond our ability to understand.
A.W. Tozer in
his book 'Knowledge of the Holy' points to our difficulty in
learn by using what we already know as a bridge over which we pass
to the unknown. It is not possible for the mind to crash suddenly
past the familiar into the totally unfamiliar. Even the most
vigorous and daring mind is unable to create something out of
nothing by a spontaneous act of imagination. ...
effort of inspired men to express the ineffable has placed a great
strain upon both thought and language in the Holy Scriptures. These
being often a revelation of a world above nature, and the minds for
which they were written being a part of nature, the writers are
compelled to use a great many “like” words to make
themselves understood. When the Spirit would acquaint us with
something that lies beyond the field of our knowledge, He tells us
that this thing is like something we already know, but He is always
careful to phrase His description so as to save us from slavish
literalism. For example, when the prophet Ezekiel saw heaven opened
and beheld visions of God, he found himself looking at that which he
had no language to describe. What he was seeing was wholly different
from anything he had ever known before, so he fell back upon the
language of resemblance. “As for the likeness of the living
creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire.”
The nearer he approaches to the burning throne the less sure his
words become: “And above the firmament that was over their
heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire
stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the
appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber,
as the appearance of fire round about within it.... This was the
appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (Tozer,
Knowledge of the Holy, p.7-8)
The other way we
seek to describe what God is like is by way of negation. We can only
describe what he is by comparing him with things we are familiar
with, and he is utterly unlike anything else. So we must resort to
using negatives to trim away the things that he is not, leaving what
he is somewhat undefined. We have a number of words that begin with
'in-' or 'im-' or 'un-' to narrow down what God is not. When we say
he is uncreated, we mean that he was not brought into being by
something else. Immortal means that he is not subject to death. When
we say he is 'invisible' we mean he is something that is not
visible, but he is still something. What it is exactly, we can't be
sure. Infinite means that he has no limit.
A poem might
help us feel the weight of our difficulty.
Blind Men and the Elephant
Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
was six men of Indostan
learning much inclined,
went to see the Elephant
all of them were blind),
each by observation
satisfy his mind.
First approached the Elephant,
happening to fall
his broad and sturdy side,
once began to bawl:
bless me! but the Elephant
very like a WALL!"
Second, feeling of the tusk,
"Ho, what have we here,
very round and smooth and sharp?
me 'tis mighty clear
wonder of an Elephant
very like a SPEAR!"
Third approached the animal,
happening to take
squirming trunk within his hands,
boldly up and spake:
see," quoth he, "the Elephant
very like a SNAKE!"
Fourth reached out an eager hand,
felt about the knee
most this wondrous beast is like
mighty plain," quoth he:
clear enough the Elephant
very like a TREE!"
Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
"E'en the blindest man
tell what this resembles most;
the fact who can,
marvel of an Elephant
very like a FAN!"
Sixth no sooner had begun
the beast to grope,
seizing on the swinging tail
fell within his scope,
see," quoth he, "the Elephant
very like a ROPE!"
so these men of Indostan
loud and long,
in his own opinion
stiff and strong,
each was partly in the right,
all were in the wrong!
To say that God
is incomprehensible is not to say that God is unknowable. We can
know true things about him. Real things about him. But we must
recognize that we cannot know everything about him. We will never
have an exhaustive knowledge of God. I don't fully understand
everything about myself, and I certainly don't understand a lot of
things about my wife. But I do know some things about her. And I can
enjoy a relationship with her. I can do things that I know will make
her angry. And I can do things that I know will make her smile. And
I know I ought to do more of the one and less of the other. The fact
that God is incomprehensible yet knowable allows us to enjoy our
relationship with him, yet continually long for more of him. We can
continually behold him – we can perceive true things about
him, what he has made known to us, and respond in worshipful
reverence and awe.
Psalm 27:4 One
thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may
dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon
the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
John 17:3 And this
is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus
Christ whom you have sent.
Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org