“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 old 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.”1
Isaiah 40:28b: “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
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 11:33-35: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his 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?’”
God has made Himself known. All of creation bears the clear, comprehensive, and convincing evidence of his genius and power. The rains, seasons, and food on our table speak of His goodness. The stars speak of his glory. Our conscience reminds us of our accountability to love and obey Him. And His word and words to us in Scripture reveal His person, purpose, and works, and explain for us the nature of reality. Moreover, He created us in His image with the ability to know Him and communicate with Him. Yet, if God did not condescend to reveal Himself to us, we could not know Him. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, what is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). All knowledge of God depends upon God condescending to reveal Himself to us.2 Our dependence on God for knowledge of God did not begin with the sin of Adam, but is an implication of God’s incomprehensibility, self-existence, and infinity.3
One of the implications of God’s self-existence noted above is God’s independence of human perception and thought. All the thoughts and pronouncements of finite, created, and dependent people can never determine the existence and nature of God. God is completely independent of His creation. Moreover, given His incomprehensibility and our dependence upon Him for all knowledge, one person’s speculation about God is no better than another person’s speculation about God. Apart from God’s revelation, all speculation is guesswork. God is incomprehensible and we lack the ability to know beyond what He has chosen to reveal to us about Himself. Thus, we can be thankful that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in creation and Scripture. We need not speculate about God, or be shaken by the unjustified speculation of unbelievers about God.
As created in God’s image, we are to pursue science to seek knowledge of God’s world for His glory and the benefit of His creatures. But we should do so with the proper understanding of our status as God’s creatures and God’s status as the incomprehensible source and sustainer of all things. We should be wise in seeking to know what God has given for us to know, and reverent in knowing our limitations before our incomprehensible Creator.
It is not right for man unrestrainedly to search out things that the Lord has willed to be hid in Himself, and to unfold from eternity itself the sublimest wisdom, which he would have us revere but not understand that through this also he should fill us with wonder. He has set forth by His Word the secrets of his will that he has decided to reveal to us. These He decided to reveal in so far as he foresaw that they would concern us and benefit us.4
Speculation about God beyond what He has condescended to reveal to us risks the idolatry of creating false images of God in our minds, according to our finite and fallen perspective. Moreover, to ignore or go beyond God’s revelation concerning His person, works, and will is to exalt our own reason over His revelation and our own authority over His authority.
As God created, ordered, and sustains the universe, so He created, ordered, and sustains reason, knowledge, and truth. Created as dependent upon God for all things, God gave us what we need for knowledge of Him and His universe. To that end, God gave us reason and logic to understand, order, and reverently submit to His revelation. And as the entire universe bears the fingerprints of God’s power and genius, so logic reflects the mind of God as He is infinitely rational and coherent in His thinking and knowledge of all things. He does not contradict Himself and in Him are no contradictions.6 And while we may not understand all that God has revealed to us about Himself and His world, our human limitations do not imply contradictions in God. Logic reflects the coherent mind of God, but is limited as used by created, finite, and fallible people.7
For instance, logic is never used in a neutral manner. As used by people to order their thought and knowledge, logic is always used according to the perspective and purpose of the person using it. Believers use logic to affirm God’s existence and attributes, while unbelievers use logic to deny them. One’s relationship to God determines how one interprets God and His creation according to the rules of logic.
Also, logic alone is inadequate to know the attributes of God. We know the nature of God by what He has chosen to reveal to us about Himself in creation and in the word and words of God in Scripture. We know of the person, works, and words of Jesus Christ, and the ultimate interpretation of God’s universe in Scripture. Logic, as vitally important as it is to order our thinking correctly, does not tell us these things. God’s revelation is the ultimate determiner of truth.
A case in point is the well-known “cosmological” argument for the existence of God. Simply stated, one version of the argument says that every effect has a cause, and as an infinite chain of causes and effects is impossible, a first cause or “unmoved mover” (God) must exist. In one sense, the argument is valid because the entire universe gives clear, comprehensive, and convincing evidence of God as its author. The effect that is the universe and everything in it proclaim God as the cause.8 Yet, we cannot conclude from logic alone that God does not have a cause or that an infinite chain of causes and effects is impossible. On the contrary, it logically follows that if “every effect must have a cause” then an infinite chain of causes and effects must exist, for the “first cause” itself must have a cause. Only God’s revelation tells us no infinite chain of causes and effects exists and that God is the self-existent cause of all things. “In the beginning God” limits the authority of logic by itself to determine ultimate truth about God and His existence. In the same way, logic alone cannot tell us that God is a Trinity, or that Christ is both one-hundred percent God and one-hundred percent man at the same time. Logic, apart from revelation, could be used to argue against such Christian doctrines.
Logic is not contrary to Christian doctrine, however. God gave logic to be used by people created in His image in the context of a world that clearly and comprehensively reveals God in all things. And while logic depends upon God’s revelation as the ultimate source of truth concerning God’s existence and attributes, the existence and use of logic itself gives clear evidence of the existence of God. Consider again a godless universe of random chance. What, then, accounts for the uniformity and universality of the laws of logic? Uniform and universal laws could not exist in a universe founded on random chance. That our reasoning functions according to uniform and universal laws of logic9 gives clear evidence of God’s existence. Apart from God, logic would be impossible.
I recently heard an atheist who, in great confidence, believes he refutes the apologetic arguments of Christians. When asked to give an account for the existence of logic he boldly affirmed that it “just is,” assuming that for which he was to give an account. He dodged the question while claiming to answer it because he could not give a reasonable account for anything in the universe as it exists, including logic, apart from God as its source and sustainer. And this should not be surprising, for the same apologists for atheism, while immersed in the clear, comprehensive, and convincing evidence of God’s existence, ask Christians for evidence of God’s existence.
Fundamental to properly understanding the nature of belief and unbelief is how we know the existence and excellence of God. In short, evidence for the existence and excellence of God is seen and known immediately and intuitively, and is not the result of a process of logical deduction. This is not to say that the knowledge of God is illogical. As we have seen, God as the source and sustainer of all things is eminently logical and the only reasonable explanation of reality as we know it. Yet, no amount of logical reasoning will convince a heart at enmity with God of the existence and excellence of God.
Edwards likens the knowledge of God to our recognition of the harmony of music, the beauty of a rainbow, or the tasting of honey.10 No explanation of sound waves is needed to prove the disharmony of two musical notes when hearing the dissonance is evidence enough. Explanations of mathematical symmetry and the various locations on the color scale cannot substitute for actually seeing the beauty of a rainbow. Its beauty is known immediately and intuitively. All of the verbal descriptions of honey to one without taste buds are nothing compared to actually tasting it. So it is with the knowledge of God. Edwards writes,
The divine glory and beauty of divine things is in itself a real evidence of their divinity, and the most direct and strong evidence. He that truly sees the divine, transcendent, supreme glory of those things which are divine, does, as it were, know their divinity intuitively.11
No amount of deductive reasoning (valuable as it is) will convince unbelievers of the excellence of God if they lack the spiritual eyes or sense to see His beauty. The evidence is clear, comprehensive, and convincing. “The gospel of the blessed God does not go abroad a-begging for its evidence, so much as some think; it has its highest and most proper evidence in itself.”12 The marks of the excellence of God are conspicuous in the world and in the parts and whole of Scripture. They are so clear in creation that all mankind are without excuse for not worshipping and giving God thanks (Romans 1:18-22). Yet, unbelievers are blind to the beauty of God’s attributes. They are hostile to the God of Scripture and view the excellence of the Gospel as “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). They see and know the truth, but their enmity against God drives them to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They know truth about God by the clear, comprehensive, and convincing evidence that surrounds them, but are blind to the beauty of God’s excellence from a heart of enmity against God as their creator, lord, and redeemer. Their desire for independence from God drives their erroneous interpretations of God’s world. The same is true of Scripture. Unbelievers can read and understand it, but cannot see its beauty and therefore reject its authority. They suppress the evidence of its divine authorship from a heart of enmity against God.
Thus, the ultimate issue of unbelief is not one of logic (as logical as true belief is), but the nature of one’s heart toward God. The heart at enmity with God will not see the beauty of God’s excellence, and will suppress the knowledge of God at every turn. Until the Spirit of God changes the heart of the unbeliever in removing the hostility and blindness to the beauty of God’s excellence, he or she will not believe. Yet, when the hostility is removed, the knowledge of the existence and excellence of God will be known immediately and intuitively, as the truth will be seen for what it truly is. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
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 (Isaiah 55:8-9).
While we can know God in a personal loving relationship, we can never know Him or His ways exhaustively. God is incomprehensible. God would be no higher than us if we could know Him exhaustively. This fact, though not always sufficiently appreciated by believers, is critical to a proper interpretation of reality in submission to God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
Believers are often confronted with arguments against faith in Christ based upon the apparent impossibility of Christian doctrines and biblical events. Many deny the possibility of the Trinity because they cannot understand how God can be one and yet eternally exist as three persons. Atheists are quick to point to the impossibility of Jonah in the belly of a big fish for three days, a universal flood and the salvation of animal life and humanity by an ark, or the sun standing still, etc. Yet, as we noted above, human perception and understanding have no effect on the nature of God and the reality God created and upholds. Because a finite human being does not believe something can happen or exist determines nothing. To deny truth about God because one does not understand it denies God’s incomprehensibility. And to deny God’s incomprehensibility is to claim knowledge about the character of God, something beyond the capacity of a finite person to know apart from the revelation of God. In the end, it makes one’s understanding the ultimate standard of truth, saying, “If I cannot understand something, it cannot be true.” This assumes for the human the authority of God in determining what can or cannot be, all despite the human limitations of five senses, three dimensions, and a few years upon the earth. Finite human understanding can never be the final standard of truth.
Given the nature of God as the creator and sustainer of all things, and our nature as created, limited, and dependent upon God for all things, it necessarily follows from our human perspective that mysteries must exist. If we could understand all things we would be God. It makes perfect sense that people of limited understanding cannot fully understand or logically reconcile many things God has revealed to us about Himself and His universe. Created, finite, and dependent people simply cannot fully comprehend what is and is not possible with a God that transcends all that He created and sustains. God is not constrained by the universe or our limited understanding of it. Moreover, to reject something because we cannot understand it implies that our limited understanding is the ultimate standard of what can and cannot be true concerning God and His universe. The same applies to the so-called “problem of evil” (to be discussed further below). The inability of our finite understanding to fully grasp the existence of evil in a universe created and sustained by a good and all powerful God merely points to our human limitations.
Behind the many problems unbelievers have with the nature of God and reality as revealed in Scripture, among other things, is a failure to acknowledge human limitations in the face of an infinite and incomprehensible God. Mystery concerning God and His universe reflects the infinite gap between God and His creatures, not any irrationality in God.13
To whom will you liken God? Or what likeness compare with Him…. To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing (Isaiah 40:18, 25-26).
While it is true that all things bear the finger prints of God and give clear, comprehensive, and convincing evidence of His existence and nature, the Potter is not the clay. The genius of the Potter is seen in the clay, but forever remains distinct from the clay. The same applies to our being created in God’s image. We bear aspects of God’s divinity but are not divine. When through faith we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), we bear and reflect aspects of the character of Christ by His Spirit within us, but we do not become Christ. All we bear of God’s image is quantitatively and qualitatively different from God.
Notwithstanding, Scripture does provide many earthly analogies of God and spiritual realities. For instance, Christ tells us that if human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God be good to His children (Luke 11:10-13). The relationship of husband and wife is a picture of the relationship of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Many such analogies are taught in Scripture. But while we can learn many things about God by what He has created, no earthly analogy can sufficiently represent an incomprehensible God. If earthly analogies could sufficiently explain God, He would be no higher than earthly things.
Our dependence upon Scripture does not deny that God has clearly revealed Himself in creation, providence, and conscience. But, even before Adam and Eve sinned, they needed God’s special revelation to know their purpose and duties. The supreme test of their fidelity in God’s command to not eat the forbidden fruit required the special revelation of God’s word.
Thus, our fall into sin did not initiate our dependence upon God’s special revelation, but greatly increased it. A corrupted will and understanding require special revelation to interpret reality correctly. A fallen will and understanding will pervert and suppress earthly analogies of God.14 Further, fallen people need the special revelation of the Gospel to know the way of deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, and to know God’s will for their life. General revelation renders irreverence and ignorance of God inexcusable, but cannot reconcile fallen people to God through faith in Christ.
Sin, corruption, and death affirm Scripture’s account of the reality if sin, its consequences, and the justice of God. But evil is not analogous of God. Without the guidance and correction of Scripture, we would interpret reality according to our finite and corrupt understanding, drawing erroneous conclusions from the existence of evil in the world. God could be seen as both good and evil, with evil as equally ultimate as goodness. We would make God in our own image or the image of created things. And, if earthly analogies are used by Christian apologists as the primary evidence of God’s existence, unbelievers will merely point to evil in the world and dismiss the existence of the holy God of Scripture. Thus, while earthly analogies are often helpful in leading unbelievers to the knowledge of God in Christ, Scripture is required for them to be used correctly.
As created and sustained by our self-existent and incomprehensible God, we humbly depend on Scripture to know and proclaim His excellence and rightly understand His universe. God alone created all things, knows all things, and possesses ultimate authority to properly interpret and explain all things. Created and dependent people of five senses, three dimensions, and a few years on earth do not possess the knowledge and outside perspective to question God’s explanation of Himself or the universe He created and sustains. For good reason God tells us that “whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). We simply lack the perspective and knowledge of God to determine truth, or to deny what God has revealed to us as truth. To what higher authority than Scripture can one appeal to deny the truth of Scripture? If we say science, on what basis does science deny the truth of Scripture? Science is conducted by human scientists, subject to the same limitations of all people. To deny the truthfulness of Scripture, one would need to deny the existence of its author, God Himself. And on what basis can a scientist, subject to human limitations, say that the transcendent God of the universe does not exist? To justifiably deny the existence of God requires knowledge about the entire universe and beyond. The omniscience of God is required to legitimately deny God. As God is incomprehensible, scientists are simply incapable of explaining His nature and existence apart from what God Himself has revealed. And no higher authority exists to which they can appeal to deny the truthfulness of Scripture (miracles will be discussed below). Apart from Scripture, atheistic scientists (as contrasted with believing scientists) merely describe how God governs the universe, even as they deny Him.
“Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 149.
2 Citing Augustine, Calvin notes that God condescends to speak to us on our level as a mother speaks to her child. Calvin, Institutes, 3.21.4.
3 To be discussed below.
4 Calvin, Institutes, 2.22.1.
5 Logic can only be the ultimate standard of truth in the sense that God is the standard of truth and God’s “mind” is perfectly coherent and logical. Finite human reasoning, including our use of logic, cannot be the final standard of truth. God has revealed many truths that we cannot reconcile according to our human use of logic, that are ultimately reconcilable to God in His infinite knowledge.
6 Frame writes, “Scripture teaches that God himself is logical. In the first place, His Word is truth (John 17:17), and truth means nothing if it is not opposed to falsehood. Therefore His Word is noncontradictory. Furthermore, God does not break His promises (2 Cor. 1:20); He does not deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13); He does not lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2). At the very least, those expressions mean that God does not do, say, or believe the contradictory of what He says to us. The same conclusion follows from the biblical teaching concerning the holiness of God. Holiness means that there is nothing in God that contradicts his perfection (including His truth). Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 253.
7 The question sometimes arises as to whether logic is created and therefore limited and unable to be the ultimate standard of truth or uncreated as it is a reflection of the coherence of God’s thought. The question, as I have phrased it, however, poses an unnecessary dichotomy. “Christians see the laws of logic as expressions of God’s thinking, His own consistent personal nature, not as principles outside of God to which He must measure up. The laws of logic reflect the nature of God, for in Him we find perfect coherence….the laws of logic reflect His nature, the way He is in Himself. They are, therefore, eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17).” Gary DeMar, ed., Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007) 210. See also 200-202, 154, 264-266. Yet, logic is used in the reasoning of finite and fallen creatures. Thus, in speaking of logic as used by finite and fallen creatures, Richard Pratt is correct in saying that “logic is not above the Creator-creature distinction,” that “logic is a part of creation,” “has limitations,” and that it is not the ultimate standard of truth, as “truth is found at the judgment seat of God, not the court of logic.” Richard Pratt, Every Thought Captive (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1979), 24-25. Pratt and Bahnsen, both adherents and expositors of the apologetic of Cornelius Van Til, agree that God’s thought is perfectly rational and coherent, that the laws of logic are reflective of God’s mind as perfectly rational and coherent, but that logic as used by created, finite, and fallible humans cannot be the ultimate standard of truth. Frame states it this way, “Human logic is fallible, even though God’s logic is infallible.” Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 255. See also Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 10-12.
8 “God’s revelation is everywhere, and everywhere perspicuous [clear]. Hence, the theistic proofs are absolutely valid. They are but the restatement of the revelation of God.” Van Til, quoted in Bahnsen, 616.
9 Or, at least, it should.
10 Edwards, Religious Affections; BT, 224; Yale, 207-208.
11 Ibid., BT, 224; Yale, 298.
12 Ibid., BT, 233; Yale, 307.
13 See Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 12.
14 See Romans 1:18-22.