PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Knowing the Incomprehensible

08/23 Knowing the Incomprehensible; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150823_knowing-the-incomprehensible.mp3

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 God

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 new covenant

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.

Colossians1:9 And 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 light.

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.

Obstacles to Knowing 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.

Sin

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.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

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 understand it?

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 desire.

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.

Incomprehensibility

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.

Immortal, invisible, unapproachable. That certainly does put a damper on our relationship!

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.

Deep, unsearchable, inscrutable. Who has known his mind? It is past finding out.

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 unsearchable.

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.

Beyond measure. Abundant. Words fall short to describe him. Moses described his appearance on Mount Sinai.

Deuteronomy 4:11 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 grasping God.

We 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. …

The 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.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, “Ho, what have we here,

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he:

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

Incomprehensible yet Knowable

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.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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August 23, 2015 - Posted by | Knowing God, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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