The Knowledge of God

There are two different extreme positions on the knowability of God. On the one hand is agnosticism. Agnostics argue that, if there is a God, we do not know anything certain about him. We have no sure and certain proofs of his existence and we cannot be sure that he has revealed anything about himself. On the other hand is a belief, usually among cult religions, that God can be fully comprehended by his creatures. Those holding this view have created a god in their image that fits their creaturely sensibilities. If human beings cannot fully comprehend God, they suggest, then they cannot love and worship him.

Christian theology falls into neither extreme. We believe that God has made human beings in his image with an innate sense of his existence. Everyone knows there is a God. Even the atheist, who denies the existence of God, demonstrates his belief in God’s existence by hating him while denying him all at the same time. We have an innate knowledge of God, but because of our sinful condition, we only come to know him personally and rightly through his Word and Spirit. But true knowledge does not mean absolute knowledge. The Bible teaches that we can know God truly even though we will never know him absolutely.  A finite mind will never be able to comprehend an infinite being.

  • Psalm 145:3 (ESV) — 3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
  • Job 26:14 (ESV) — 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?”
  • Isaiah 55:8–9 (ESV) — 8 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 11:33–36 (ESV) — 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV)

Herman Bavinck captures the distinctiveness of Christian theology on this point:

There is a big difference, certainly, between having an absolute knowledge and having a relative knowledge of such an absolute Being. Given the finiteness of human beings, the former is never an option. If Eunomius were correct in saying that either we know God’s being or else we do not know God at all, then human beings could not possess true knowledge of finite things either. What we know of God we know only of his revelation and therefore only as much as he is pleased to make known to us concerning himself and as much as finite humans can absorb. Knowledge of God, accordingly, can be true and pure, but it is always most relative and does not include but excludes comprehension. Basil was right in telling Eunomius that ‘the knowledge of God consists in the perception of his incomprehensibility.’ But this insight itself already constitutes substantial knowledge. For that reason, not a single agnostic is prepared in the end to restrict himself or herself to saying that the matter is unclear (non liquet). Spender, for example, keeps saying that we do not know the Absolute; at the same time he has an idea of it, demonstrates its existence, and assigns an array of properties to it. He asserts that it is not a negative but a positive concept; that it is the cause of everything; that it is a power mostly analogous to our will, infinite, eternal, omnipresent (etc.). This certainly is no longer agnosticism, but a very specific kind of knowledge and a rather well-defined God-concept. Agnosticism, inherently untenable and afraid of atheism, serves in the end to justify a pantheistic God-concept. (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume II, pg. 51–52)

Only a God that is infinite and incomprehensible is worthy of our worship. We owe him our eternal praise for making himself known to us in Christ. We will spend eternity increasing in the knowledge of his infinite glory for our eternal joy.