IS GOD UNKNOWABLE?
Sermonette notes, 8-4-01, Ann Arbor, MI, UCG
Are these statements about God true?:
Nineteenth-century Protestant minister Charles Spurgeon: “As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God.”
Twentieth-century Swiss/German theologian Karl Barth: “Man cannot define God by talking about man, in however loud a voice. God is . . . wholly different.” [Prominent neo-orthodox theologian, the Bible “contains” the word of God, etc.]
General tendency among various liberal and moderately liberal theologians: God is totally different from and separate from nature, unknowable to the human mind, and has a morality alien to man’s.
So is it true to say Christians can’t really know God? Can finite, limited man presume to understand the infinite, unlimited God? Will God always be unknowable to us, including the next life? Or can we know Him fully at least in the next life? If we know God some in this life, how much can we know?
S.P.S. By revealing Himself to humanity by the Bible, His creation, and His Spirit, and so reaching down to mankind, God has made Himself knowable to us if we’re willing to use our minds and put effort into it.
Is human reason, on its own, a totally invalid way to know about God and about what God wants of us?
I Cor. 13:11-12
In this life, we can’t fully know God. But in the next we will be able to.
I John 3:1-2
We shall become like God, therefore, we can know God.
Seeing is a means of knowing.
Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth-century Catholic theologian and philosopher, cited this text to prove mankind can know the essence of God when God helps us do so. He even said that regular light given off by the sun helped to perfect the intellect, strengthening it so it could see God. By this he meant the most important and defining characteristics of God. His reasoning was that man’s highest, most important function was his mind. If God can’t ever be understood by it, then man could never reach an ultimate state of spiritual happiness and bliss. Since God is our Creator, we need to know the source or cause of our existence in order to be happy, in order to know our own purpose in life. We also, based on reason alone, want to know the cause of our existence, the search for the meaning of life.
It’s not to say we can know everything about God. The quotes I made at the beginning of the sermonette are by no means fully wrong. We can only truly know God, besides Him being the Creator, by Him revealing himself to us.
We are limited, and he is unlimited, He is infinite, we are finite, but God condescends to reach down to us, and make it possible for us to understand what we have to know about Him.
The danger of spiritual “one-upmanship” with saying God is unknowable: “I’m more holy than you are because I think I can’t know as much about God as you think you can.”
Furthermore, human reason on its own can’t know much about God besides His existence and certain key attributes.
Human reason on its own can only know very limited things about God. We need the Bible, which is God’s revelation to mankind, to know what MUST be known about God in order for us to live happy lives. Natural revelation and natural theology on their own simply won’t do the job.
Why does this matter to us in the Church of God? If we think God is totally incomprehensible, we’re not as likely to trust Him or have faith in Him when we have problems in our spiritual lives such as trials. We have to avoid thinking God’s ways are totally incomprehensible.
But, more importantly, if we believe God is unknowable and will always be unknowable, that’s proof we can’t become God. For obviously we can’t become divine if we could never, ever even understand what God is to begin with.
Conclusion: Since God allows us to know Him truly, by reaching down to us to reveal Himself to us, we should rejoice in knowing the purpose of our lives. Since we can know the cause of our existence wasn’t a mere blind force or (worse) random chance, we need not wonder or joke about “What’s the meaning of life?” as people in the world do. In this life, we don’t know God fully, but we know enough that our lives and minds aren’t intrinsically frustrated by our ignorance caused by natural limits on them. Furthermore, since we know now that we shall know the essence of God in the next life, we know we shall be like God ourselves. Our minds shall become more like His mind so we can know Him: “We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”