“God has a substantial Being all His own and distinct from the world and that this substantial Being is immaterial, invisible, and without composition or extension.” He has no corporeal body, nor “properties belonging to matter.”1
John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
1 Timothy 1:17: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
1 Timothy 6:15b-16: “The King of kings and Lord of lords, 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.”
Note how this attribute is intimately connected with God’s simplicity, incomprehensibility, infinity (including His transcending time and space, and omnipresence), self-existence, and self-sufficiency.
God as spirit cannot be constrained by the “natural” order and “laws” of the universe. This truth is also implied by His infinity, incomprehensibility, and self-existence as creator of all things. And as we have seen, created, finite, and dependent people are incapable of knowing that God is constrained by the universe He created and upholds. No human is capable of knowing that God, as infinite spirit, is so limited.2 Apart from God’s revelation, knowledge of what God can and cannot be or do requires omniscience. And as with God’s infinity and incomprehensibility, God as spirit must reveal to us His nature if we are to know it. To presume otherwise is again to exalt human reason over the ultimate authority of God’s revelation.
Perhaps you are old enough to remember an incident involving one of the early Soviet cosmonauts. Upon achieving orbit around the earth he looked out the window into outer space and proclaimed that he did not see God (one commentator noted that had the astronaut broken the window of his capsule he would have seen God immediately). No doubt this was great propaganda for the atheistic communists who sent him into space. But was it a worthwhile or meaningful statement? On the one hand, it was worthless for affirming or denying the existence of God, for God is spirit and it would have been impossible for the cosmonaut to see Him. In this respect, his vantage point in space was no greater than ours on earth. Given that God is spirit and cannot be seen by anyone apart from God choosing to manifest himself, it was a scientific non-event.
On the other hand, it was a telling event with respect to the nature of unbelief. A living breathing person of countless individual cells, all working together in harmony, sustained by other plant and animal life of countless individual cells, coherently thinks thought and operates the controls of the space capsule, similarly made up of countless atoms, all moving about in space, yet comprising the organized matter of the space capsule, moving in orbit according to fixed, uniform, and universal “laws” of “nature,” having been built and launched according to those same laws. Surrounded by the clear, comprehensive, and convincing evidence of the genius and power of God, he looks out the window and declares that he does not see God. Rightly Scripture tells us, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1).
As noted earlier, the very denial of God presumes the existence of God. A universe without God is a universe of random chance, in which no astronaut, window, or language to describe the sight would be possible. The entire Soviet space program assumed the existence of God in all of their work to put the cosmonaut in space, only to deny Him in the midst of an ocean of compelling evidence to the contrary. The cosmonaut’s statement merely confirmed Scripture’s description of unbelief as the unrighteous suppression of the obvious truth concerning God and the need to repent of this affront to God’s excellence. But as a scientific statement regarding the existence of God, the cosmonaut’s statement was worthless.
Explanations of God and the universe on purely material grounds cannot explain the nature and purpose of either. Scientists are at a loss here. They can observe and describe what God has created and how He orders and sustains it, but are helpless to explain the ultimate nature of God and reality apart from God’s revelation.
Interestingly, the same limitations that make people unable to know ultimate realities are often enlisted by unbelievers to make claims about ultimate realities. One such claim goes something like this: God cannot be known, because we can only know for certain what can be known by our five senses. If we cannot see, hear, taste, touch, or smell God, we cannot know Him. But while this appears to affirm the limitations of human knowledge, it actually presumes the omniscience required to know the nature of God. The claim assumes to know what God can and cannot do, i.e., reveal Himself, while at the same time denying that we can know God. This claims knowledge of that which the claim says we can know nothing, and is thus self-contradictory.
Further, the claim assumes to know what God has and has not done, i.e., reveal Himself. It also denies that God can be known by the evidence of His works, or that anything in the world known by our senses gives evidence for God. But this is contrary to reality. The evidence is clear, comprehensive, and convincing, such that all people are without excuse. This is suppression of the truth in unrighteousness and not a truth derived and known by the senses.
Indeed, the claim is also self-defeating in that our senses cannot determine the claim that knowledge of something is limited to that which can be known by our senses. If we can only know for certain what can be known by our five senses, how do we know that this statement is true? What justifies the claim, or from what authority is the claim derived? As the claim cannot be derived or proven by the senses, then the claim itself is false according to its own principles.
Some go so far as to say that something cannot exist which cannot be known by our senses. For instance, some may remember Carl Sagan’s opening line to his Cosmos TV series: “The cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be.” But, as we have seen, Dr. Sagan himself would need to be omniscient, knowing everything about the entire universe and beyond to justifiably make such a statement. How could he possibly know that the cosmos is all there is, was, or will ever be? Did he really assume that his understanding of what he could personally see in a telescope or test tube determines what can and cannot exist? Rather than making impossible statements, perhaps Dr. Sagan would have done better to state that the cosmos is all he has ever seen personally, admitting his human limitations in the face of a transcendent God. Of course, even this would be an inadequate statement, as the entire universe declares the glory of God.
Ironically, those making personal experience the ultimate standard of truth assume an ordered reality to be known and ordered senses to know it, with no reasonable explanation for the existence of either. That both exist give clear evidence of God’s creating, ordering, and sustaining work, apart from which there could be no senses or reality for the senses to know. Apart from God, all is random chance, and random chance accidents in a random chance universe can know nothing. Rules, laws, order, and design, including the senses and knowledge, are impossible in a random chance universe. All things, including knowledge and the “knower,” would be random chance accidents, each unrelated to anything else, without continuity of existence or form from one moment to the next (to be discussed further below under “truth”). Knowledge and senses assume design, order, uniformity and continuity, none of which are explicable or possible by random chance. Thus, knowledge and human senses are inexplicable apart from God.
Again, God alone determines what can and cannot be known. Apart from God, nothing can be known. The assumption that our senses and personal experience by which we interpret the world are the standard of what can exist or be known is to assume the place and prerogative of God alone. The sin of Adam and Eve is again repeated here.
“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 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 66.
2 In the short booklet, What’s in the Box? (unpublished), the obvious point is made that if Mr. Atheist is unable to know the contents of Mr. Christian’s little black box without looking into it, how can he possibly know things that require complete knowledge of everything in the universe and beyond?