commentary: The Incomprehensibility of Our Great God
Martin G. Collins
Given 19-Dec-20; 12 minutes
In these commentaries, we try to take a secular subject and cast a balanced look at it, and also look at it from a godly perspective. I'm taking a very simple subject that may not seem that important, but I think that it will be helpful to you.
We live in a culture of exaggeration—a culture of inflated language. Our text messages and emails burst with exclamation points and smiley faces, and we suspect less-enthusiastic communicators of being cynical.
Our everyday language swells in an era where ‘immediate’ overshadows ‘thoughtful’, where the true meaning of words is questionable, and where agreement is highly valued. Parents and teachers praise children profusely for attempting even basic chores. Social media statuses daily attract hundreds of thumbs-ups.
When we use words like "magnificent" and "extraordinary" to describe everyday things in our advertisements and daily lives, what words do we have left to describe breathtaking glory?
Often the words themselves are beside the point.
So, instead of superlatives, we have a new term now to express what we want to express without words: emoticon. The term “emoticon” is short for "emotion icon," also known simply as “an emote.” It is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using characters—usually punctuation marks, numbers, and letters—to express a person's feelings, mood, or reaction, or as a time-saving method.
To many people in many contexts—especially young people in any context—the word "awesome" means "nice looking," "great," "excellent," "fine," "exciting," "stimulating," and so on. But if everything is awesome, nothing is. Many people today seem to be either in a state of near-perpetual awe, or in a state of a complete lack of awe. UrbanDictionary.com describes “awesome” as "something Americans use to describe everything." But when something describes everything, it describes nothing.
Please understand: I am not saying we should never use grandiose words like “awesome” and “great.” My purpose with this commentary is to urge you to think more carefully about the idle words and symbols we use in everyday conversation that we also use to describe God.
For God’s elect, words still matter. Saying the right word at the right time is a thing of beauty. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Jesus urges us to use language precisely, warning against calling anyone a fool who is not, and predicting a day when people will give account for every careless word and be justified or condemned by them (Matthew 12:36-37).
It is easy to respond to everything from dessert to a pay raise with “Great!” It is easy, but is it true? (It is interesting that we just had a sermonette on "What is Truth?") And where does our mindless reaction leave us when we use words for our great God? The word "great" does not seem quite as great when we use it on and on in society.
We should be using a different standard than the pop culture. Our language sets us apart and reflects a reality that only God’s people understand. If you don’t know God, you might think a clever video is awesome. But if you truly get to know Him, you will understand what awesome truly is. Careful language testifies to the world as it reflects our truth-telling God. In life under the sun, even the most superb language fails us in describing and referring to our Great God, our Awesome God!
Or, if we choose to save some excellent words for God, our words are still very limited because God is great and He is awesome, and we cannot describe that. We lack language to adequately express the fu.lness of our God. There are times when we might do better to follow the example of Job when he says,
Job 40:4-5 "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further."
In the aftermath of God’s self-revelation, Job responds in the only way he can to the awesome God: by silence.
In a world of babble and exaggeration, standing before our awesome God, sometimes we have nothing to say at all, meaning we are speechless. We know if we were before our God, we would be face down in the dirt or on the floor, terrified to stand before Him, even though we try to be as righteous as possible with God's help through His Holy Spirit.
The English word “awesome” in the Bible describes the incomprehensibility of God’s character and magnitude and things related to His powerful will.
Psalm 99:2-3 The Lord is great in Zion, and He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name—He is holy.
Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can’t fully comprehend His whole being. Let me give you some examples:
Psalm 145:3 “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.”
Job shows his bewilderment of God’s ways:
Job 26:14 “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?"
The Eternal leaves no doubt how little we really know of His omniscience:
Isaiah 55:8-9 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says 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."
The apostle Paul is in awe of God’s mind and how it is far beyond his own comprehension:
Romans 11:33-34 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?"
These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible, but each of His attributes—His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments—are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we not know everything there is to know about God, but we also cannot know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.
Here are some main reasons that God is incomprehensible to us.
First: God is infinite, and we are finite. God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. We live and die according to His will.
Second: The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. His attributes are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way.
Third: The effects of sin on the human mind also greatly inhibit our ability to know God. Human nature distorts, perverts, and confuses truth for selfish reasons rather than for God’s glory.
Fourth: God cannot be fully known because in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things to us. He reveals them when we need to know them. Because God cannot be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that we will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness.
God’s incomprehensibility also means that we can hold beliefs with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. This could lead us to despair or apathy (if we were not staying close to God) in the quest to know God, but the Bible also teaches that God is knowable. While God cannot be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself through His Spirit so that He can be truly known according to His will.
God’s attributes are the fundamental descriptions of who He is. Knowledge of God in Christ is a wonderful joy and leads to godly love.
We can know things about God that are absolutely true, so much so that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself in Christ should encourage our solid conviction.
At His renewing of the covenant in Moab, the Eternal revealed that some things are not for us to know, but that he does sufficiently reveal to us what we need to know:
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.