Systematic Theology: The Whole Counsel of God
Lecture Notes Chapter 10: The Knowability of God
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God
The Knowability of God
Can we really know God? How much of God can we know?
A. The Necessity for God to Reveal Himself to Us
But can we really know God? Is it possible to understand and know God as He really is in Himself? the atheist says there is no God, and therefore it is pointless to speak of knowing Him. the agnostic says we can not know whether there is a God or not; and since we can’t know whether there is a God we cannot know anything about Him either.
Can we really know God? the child of God with faith in the Holy Scripture says, “Yes! God is knowable!” That’s the subject we want to look into with you briefly. The text quoted above will show us the way. In John 17 Jesus is speaking, in fact, Jesus is praying to the Triune God and Father the night in which He was betrayed. In verse 2 He speaks of giving eternal life to as many as God has given unto Him. And in verse 3 he defines that life very beautifully: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.” How can a man attain unto such a blessed knowledge? Is it possible for man with his wisdom, learning, and intellect to reach up and find God, ascend up to God, and know Him? Will the scientific method of the laboratory show who and what God is? Never. For when Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is, after hearing all kinds of answers the people have been giving, Peter responds for all the disciples, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!!” Then Jesus speaks this instructive word: “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” this means that the only possibility of a man ever really knowing God is through divine revelation. Man does not reach up to find God and decide who God is, but God reached down to man’s level, God condescends to us, and speaking very simply and clearly, tells us Who and What He is. Unless God so speaks, man cannot know God.
If we are to know God at all, it is necessary that he reveal himself to us. Even when discussing the revelation of God that comes through nature, Paul says that what can be known about God is plain to people “because God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:19). The natural creation reveals God because he chose to have himself revealed in this way.
With regard to the personal knowledge of God that comes in salvation, this idea is even more explicit. Jesus says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). This kind of knowledge of God is not found through human effort or wisdom: “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:21; cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3–4; John 1:18).
B. We Can Never Fully Understand God
Because God is infinite and we are finite or limited, we can never fully understand God. In this sense God is said to be incomprehensible where the term incomprehensible is used with an older and less common sense, “unable to be fully understood.” This sense must be clearly distinguished from the more common meaning, “unable to be understood.” It is not true to say that God is unable to be understood, but it is true to say that he cannot be understood fully or exhaustively.
Psalm 145 says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3). God’s greatness is beyond searching out or discovering: it is too great ever to be fully known. Regarding God’s understanding, Psalm 147 says, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Ps. 147:5). We will never be able to measure or fully know the understanding of God: it is far too great for us to equal or to understand. Similarly, when thinking of God’s knowledge of all his ways, David says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Ps. 139:6; cf. v. 17).
Paul implies this incomprehensibility of God when he says, “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God,” and then goes on to say that “no one comprehends the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10–12). At the end of a long discussion on the history of God’s great plan of redemption, Paul breaks forth into praise: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).
This doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility has much positive application for our own lives. It means that we will never be able to know “too much” about God, for we will never run out of things to learn about him, and we will thus never tire in delighting in the discovery of more and more of his excellence and of the greatness of his works.
Even in the age to come, when we are freed from the presence of sin, we will never be able fully to understand God or any one thing about him. This is seen from the fact that the passages cited above attribute God’s incomprehensibility not to our sinfulness but to his infinite greatness. It is because we are finite and God is infinite that we will never be able to understand him fully. For all eternity we will be able to go on increasing in our knowledge of God and delighting ourselves more and more in him, saying with David as we learn more and more of God’s own thoughts, “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” (Ps. 139:17–18).
C. Yet We Can Know God Truly
Even though we cannot know God exhaustively, we can know true things about God. In fact, all that Scripture tells us about God is true. It is true to say that God is love (1 John 4:8), that God is light (1 John 1:5), that God is spirit (John 4:24), that God is just or righteous (Rom. 3:26), and so forth. To say this, does not imply or require that we know everything about God or about his love or his righteousness or any other attribute.
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. (Jer. 9:23–24)
Here God says that the source of our joy and sense of importance ought to come not from our own abilities or possessions, but from the fact that we know him. Similarly, in praying to his Father, Jesus could say, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The promise of the new covenant is that all shall know God, “from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11), and John’s first epistle tells us that the Son of God has come and given us understanding “to know him who is true” (1 John 5:20; see also Gal. 4:9; Phil. 3:10; 1 John 2:3; 4:8). John can say, “I write to you, children, because you know the Father” (1 John 2:13).
D. How Do We Know God?
John 14:8-9 (ESV)
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Amazing words! Jesus is actually saying that He is the full, accurate, complete revelation of God to us! Everything that is true of God you may find revealed in Christ! How is this possible? First, remember that Jesus is God, He is the only begotten, eternal, natural Son of God, and He is that in union with our flesh. Thus, the “fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily,” and in Christ shines forth “the brightness of God’s glory, the express image of His person.” Today, when we look at Christ as He is set forth in the Scriptures, and when we look by faith, then we see the invisible God as He really is, and that is eternal life!!
We must say one more thing. If God does not speak through Christ to a man, if God does not speak through the gospel to a man, there is no knowledge of Him and thus no salvation either. If a man does not believe in the Christ of the Scriptures, he cannot be saved. Speaking to Thomas, according to John 14, the Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Coming to the Father means knowing the Father, believing in the Father, trusting in the Father, and having salvation of the Father. No one can come to the Triune God and Father except through Christ! What clear implications those words have! First, this means that there is no salvation unless the Gospel of Christ is preached. You don’t come to God through nature, you don’t come to God through philosophical speculation, you must come through Christ as set forth fully in the Word of God. Secondly these words of Jesus mean that the religion called Judaism is a totally false religion. The Jews reject the Christ as Messiah, and therefore as long as they hold to their false beliefs, they cannot be saved. Their only hope, and the only hope of any man, is to repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!
T or F?
Sally G.– I have lived a good life and I have helped many people. I volunteer every week at the local homeless shelter and help with the feeding of many poor people. I believe with all my heart that because I’m a good person God loves me. Based on all the good I’ve done, I am going to Heaven when I die?
Because Sally does not know God through Jesus Christ, she really doesn’t know God. She has manufactured a god in her imagination that rewards good behavior. Her God doesn’t judge sin at all.
Jim S. – I have lived selfishly. I’ve only ever cared about myself. I have broken many laws and have not been caught. I’ve cheated on my wife and have lied to her. The other day at work, a person I know started speaking to me about Jesus and how He would forgive every sin I’ve ever committed. He showed me in the Bible where God actually says it. I bought a Bible last week and have been reading some. I am beginning to see how very wrong and wicked I’ve been. I’m not worthy but I’m beginning to believe that God would forgive me if I come to Him through Jesus. My friend told me to seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus and then go and seek my wife’s forgiveness.
I am beginning to believe that God will forgive all my sins through Jesus.
Which person knows God?