What Can Be Known About God

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By Robert Ely

 God is certainly incomprehensible in His fullness. There is no way for finite minds to fully comprehend the infinite. Paul, in his doxology in Romans 11:33-36 cries, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable is 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.” 

 However, we know that even Paul would never agree that God couldn’t be known at all. Gerald Bray asserts, “To be a Christian is to believe that it is possible to know God. More than that, it is to believe that God has made it possible for us to know him by revealing himself to us.”[1] When speaking of the incomprehensibility of God, we definitely do not mean that God is completely unknowable in some agnostic sense. If that were so, Paul would hardly have anything to say at all except Romans 11:33-36! But alas, Paul has much to say, as do Peter, John, Moses, the prophets, etc. Why is this the case? Because God has revealed Himself to the world.

 Paul teaches that God has revealed himself to all men in a general sense. Romans 1:19-20 states clearly, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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.” Likewise, the psalmist celebrates something very similar in Psalm 19:1-2 by stating, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” In theological terms this is commonly called “general revelation.” It is a revelation of Himself that is available to all people, everywhere, in all times.

 While this general revelation does allow mankind to know some things about God, it isn’t very specific. It doesn’t necessarily reveal His character, and it doesn’t reveal His saving work. For that type of knowledge, we would need God to reveal Himself in a special way.

 Fortunately, God has revealed much about Himself in a special way, in what theology calls “special revelation.” Hebrews 1:1-2 tell us, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.” This tells us two things about special revelation: that God has revealed Himself and His will to us through prophets (today we have a record of that through His Word, the Bible) and especially through Jesus Christ.

 Concerning God’s revelation of Himself through Scripture, the apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:19-21, “And we have this prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried about by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, God was activelyrevealing Himself to mankind through the direct influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, thus making sure that what He did choose to reveal about Himself could, indeed, be known, and known accurately.

 But by far the greatest knowledge about God comes not through prophets, but through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In John 14, Jesus, in giving instruction to His disciples before His death, was asked by Philip in verse 8, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus replied to him in with an unmistakable assertion. He said in verse 9, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” This discussion definitely will overlap with the topic of the Trinity, but it is clear that since Jesus and the Father were one (see John 10:30; 14:10, et al.), Jesus perfectly reveals God the Father and makes it possible for Him to be known by His people (see also John 17:4, 6, 8, 26). This knowledge, also not even close to being exhaustive, is nonetheless real and accurate. God is, indeed, knowable so far as, and in the many and various ways, He has revealed Himself to mankind.

[1] Gerald Bray. The Doctrine of God. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 14.

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