We are beginning a new series called ‘Questions Christians Ask,’ where we will seek to address Christian beliefs in a question and answer format. We will begin the series with the question: Is God Knowable? Together, we are going to explore what the bible has to say on the ‘knowability’ of God and of the nature of God’s revelation of himself and his will.
The starting point for this question is that, had he chose to, God could have left us completely in the dark regarding who he is and what he expects of us. But scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God because he has graciously revealed himself to us. While he does make himself known, scripture also affirms that he will never be exhaustively or completely known.
1. God cannot be exhaustively known
God cannot be exhaustively known because, simply put: God is God and we are not. God is infinite in his being and we are finite in ours. The following scriptures underscore the fact that this truth is so:
Psalm 145:3: “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”
Job 11:7-9: “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven – what can you do? Deeper than Sheol – what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”
Isaiah 55:8-9: “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.”
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!”
Job 26:14: “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
2. God can be truly known (through ‘General Revelation’ and ‘Special Revelation’)
I. General Revelation
General revelation is the revelation of God to all people at all times. This revelation is experienced both through nature (Psalm 19:1- 4a) and through conscience (Romans 2:14-15). This means that all humanity has true evidence for the existence of God and some knowledge of his character.
Additionally, general revelation also evidences attributes of God like his existence, power, wisdom, and creativity (see Romans 1:19-20).
Psalm 19:1-4a: “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. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
Romans 1:18-20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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.”
Acts 14:17: “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
Romans 2:14-15: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
See also Acts 17:22-23.
General revelation is sufficient for humanity to be held accountable, but insufficient to bring humanity to a saving knowledge of God. General revelation does not tell the whole story. For that we need God’s special revelation.
II. Special Revelation
Throughout Scripture we are given many examples of the ways in which God reveals himself to humanity. These are often referred to as modes of revelation and include: mighty acts in history including miracles, signs and wonders, visions and dreams, direct speech, and messages communicated through angels. Here we note the two primary sources of special revelation, namely Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, and the Scriptures.
A. Jesus Christ, the incarnate God
The incarnation is the most complete revelation. The life and words of Jesus perfectly reflect the character and nature of the Father.
Hebrews 1:1-3a: “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 also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
John 1:14,18: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
B. Scripture, the Word of God
Scripture is God’s written revelation of who He is and what He has done in redemptive history. Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
We will have more to say in coming blog posts about the nature and attributes of scripture.