What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

When we seek to define the incomprehensibility of God we must take great care in what we say. For example, if you looked up the modern definition of incomprehensible you would find this: ‘unable to be understood.’ Can you see what’s wrong with that definition? We can truly understand God to a certain extent, for God has revealed Himself in general and special revelation.

How are we then to define the incomprehensibility of God? We must use the older definition of the word incomprehensible, which says this: ‘unable to be fully understood’ which makes the entire definition of the incomprehensibility of God more like this: to say God is incomprehensible is to say He is infinite and because we’re finite we’ll never be able to understand God fully.

Psalm 145:3 says, ‘Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.’ Psalm 147:5 says, ‘Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.’ After David recounts the depth of God’s knowledge of His own creation and creatures he says in Psalm 139:6, ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.’ Then again in Psalm 139:17-18a, ‘How precious to me are Your thoughts O’ God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.’ Paul, in 1 Cor. 2:10-11 speaks of similar things when he says, ‘The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person thoughts (the word ‘thoughts’ only implied in Greek) except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts (again, thoughts only implied in Greek) of God except the Spirit of God.’

These passages all teach that God is great. God is so much greater than we are that the prospect of coming to know Him can often seem daunting. How can we with all our sin, all our natural weakness, all our darkness, how can we truly come to know God? This problem between our ability to comprehend and God’s infinite nature is even mentioned in the Bible. For example Isaiah 55:8-9 says, ‘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.’ Paul also speaks of this in Romans 11:33-36, ‘Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.’ In Judges 13 when Manoah (the father of Samson) asks God what His name is and God responds in 13:18 saying, ‘Why do you ask My name, seeing it’s wonderful?’

There is a huge difference between the Creator and the Creature, and isn’t it a wonder that as incomprehensible as God is, He has given us the ability to comprehend Him to a certain degree.

We not only see God’s incomprehensibility in His being and nature, we see it His special revelation (the Scripture) as well. Never will we be able to read the Bible and come away feeling a ‘smug’ feeling as if we’ve mastered what we just read and never need to read it again. The doxology passage just mentioned in Romans 11 comes after 11 chapters of deep doctrine, logic, and gospel explanations, and how does Paul come away from that section? Boasting? Swaggering? Arrogant? No. 11 chapters of deep doctrine brings Paul to his knees, it brings him to wonder and awe leaving him with a feeling that he has barely scraped the surface of God’s wondrous works.

So we can really know Him, truly, deeply, and sincerely. Jesus made this clear in John 17:3, ‘And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’ This means any dealing with the incomprehensibility of God must also deal with the knowability of God.

Therefore we are now in a position to see something wonderful of God’s nature. His incomprehensibility flows from His transcendence over us, while His knowability flows from His immanence. If we make the error of only believing God to be transcendent we make the error of Deism (that God is great, holy even, but far away). On the other hand if we make the error of only believing God to be immanent we make the error of Liberalism (that God isn’t so great or holy, and isn’t worth our worship).

But if we believe God to be what the Scripture says He is, transcendent and immanent we’ll see the truth. That God is great, over-all things, Lord of all, infinite and transcendent – we can never plumb the depths of our God! But how precious is it that God has chosen come near to us so we could know Him as He really is. John Calvin spoke of God’s revealing Himself to us by using the phrase ‘God’s accommodation.’ Meaning, that God does not speak to us in His own Trinitarian language but rather speaks to us in ways we can understand. God is like a loving parent who speaks in ‘baby-talk,’ He ‘lisps’ to us so we can know Him.

You should be aware that some people use the incomprehensibility of God as a proof that we cannot know God, but can only know facts about Him or can only know Him as He relates to us. The Bible doesn’t speak this way. The Bible makes it clear that we can know Him, know the Person of God. In Jeremiah 9:23-24 God boasts of this very thing saying, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.’ Hebrews 8:11 says the glory of the New Covenant is this, that we all will know Him ‘from the least to the greatest.’ 1 John 5:20 says Jesus came into the world so that we would ‘know Him who is true.’ Martin Luther spoke of God being both Deus Absconditus (hidden God) and Deus Revelatus (Revealed God).

Hear J.I. Packer, ‘The main business you are here for is know God…Ignorance of God, of His ways and communing with Him, lies at the root of much of the Church’s weakness today.’

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