The Knowability of God

by  Rev. D. H. Kuiper  

John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent."

In our previous pamphlet we developed some of the important ideas contained in Jeremiah 9:23-24 where we learned that although all boasting is not forbidden by the Lord, He is very insistent that boasting be in one thing alone.  A man may not boast or glory in his wisdom, his might, or his riches;  this kind of boasting is actually in self and in what self has done.  It is pride and therefore sin.  Jeremiah goes on to say that anyone who glories must glory in this, "that he understandeth and knoweth God, that He is the Lord which exerciseth lovingkindess, judgment, and righteousness in the earth:  for in these thins I delight, saith the Lord."  this is not head knowledge, but hear knowledge.  this is not emotional feeling, but is emphatically doctrinal in content.  this is not knowledge derived from creation, but very clearly derived from the Holy Scripture and its preaching. 

But can we really know God?  Is it possible to understand and know God as He really is in Himself?  the atheist says there is no God, and therefore it is pointless to speak of knowing Him.  the agnostic says we can not know whether there is a God or not; and since we can't know whether there is a God we cannot know anything about Him either.  The Jew, the one who holds to Judaism or the religion of the synagogue, holds that the only place to learn about God is the Old Testament.  We'll see that such a response is hopelessly wrong too.  What do we say?  Can we really know God?  the child of God with faith in the Holy Scripture says, "Yes!  God is knowable!"  That's the subject we want to look into with you briefly.  The text quoted above will show us the way. In John 17 Jesus is speaking, in fact, Jesus is praying to the Triune God and Father the night in which He was betrayed.  In verse 2 He speaks of giving eternal life to as many as God has given unto Him.  And in verse 3 he defines that life very beautifully:  "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent."  How can a man attain unto such a blessed knowledge? Is it possible for man with his wisdom, learning, and intellect to reach up and find God, ascend up to God, and know Him?  Will the scientific method of the laboratory show who and what God is?  Never.  For when Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is, after hearing all kinds of answers the people have been giving, Peter responds for all the disciples, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!!"  Then Jesus speaks this instructive word:  "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." this means that the only possibility of a man ever really knowing God is through divine revelation.  Man does not reach up to find God and decide who God is, but God reached down to man's level, God condescends to us, and speaking very simply and clearly, tells us Who and What He is.  Unless God so speaks, man cannot know God.  

We ought to recognize that God makes Himself known in two ways, the first of which is His marvelous creation.  God shows forth of Himself through every creature He has formed and through His preservation  and governance of the universe.  Psalm 19 makes clear that this is a speech of God: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.  There is no speech or language where there voice is not heard."  All men everywhere see and hear this speech!  But when we face the question, What does man gain from this revelation of God, we learn from Romans 1 that this divine speech in creation carries a very limited message.  Romans 1:20 states, "For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead:  so that they are without excuse."  The apostle Paul is saying there that all a man can learn from creation itself is that there is a God, a God of power, a God Who must be served and thanked.  No more than that!  Paul also makes plain that God's purpose with revealing Himself through creation to everyone everywhere is that this revelation is sufficient to leave them without an excuse.  When men persist in unbelief and sin, God can justly condemn them forever on the basis of the knowledge they gained of Him through the things that are made.  Man's reaction to this speech of God is to refuse to glorify or thank Him, and to take the glory of God revealed so wondrously in creation, and change it into the image of man, and beasts, and creeping things.  So this first method of divine revelation is limited as to what it says about God, is not unto salvation but unto condemnation, and is not the kind of revelation we have in mind here as we speak of the knowledge of God which is eternal life.  

There is also a speech of God in Jesus Christ, and this revelation of God is full and, when accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit, is saving!  Does not Jesus say that eternal  life is this, "that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Who Thou hast sent"?  The knowledge of God which is unto salvation through Christ Jesus!  He is the only possibility of ever truly knowing God.  We read in John 1 that the Word which was made flesh and dwelt among us was full of grace, truth, and glory, even the glory of the Father.  We read in verse 18 of this chapter that the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father hath declared Him Whom no man hath seen at any time.  And we are to understand that this revelation of God in Christ Jesus is a full revelation of Himself.  In John 14 Philip says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us."  Jesus can hardly believe His ear;  He says, "Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?  He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and howsayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" 

Amazing words!  Jesus is actually saying that He is the full, accurate, complete revelation of God to us!  Everything that is true of God you may find revealed in Christ! How is this possible?  First, remember that Jesus is God, He is the only begotten, eternal, natural Son of God, and He is that in union with our flesh.  Thus, the "fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily," and in Christ shines forth "the brightness of God's glory, the express image of His person."  Today, when we look at Christ as He is set forth in the Scriptures, and when we look by faith, then we see the invisible God as He really is, and that is eternal life!!

We must say one more thing.  If God does not speak through Christ to a man, if God does not speak through the gospel to a man, there is no knowledge of Him and thus no salvation either.  If a man does not believe in the Christ of the Scriptures, he cannot be saved.  Speaking to Thomas, according to John 14, the Lord said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life:  no man cometh unto the Father but by me."  Coming to the Father means knowing the Father, believing in the Father, trusting in the Father, and having salvation of the Father. No one can come to the Triune God and Father except through Christ!  What clear implications those words have!  First, this means that there is no salvation unless the Gospel of Christ is preached.  You don't come to God through nature, you don't come to God through philosophical speculation, you must come through Christ as set forth fully in the Word of God.  Secondly these words of Jesus mean that the religion called Judaism is a totally false religion.  The Jews reject the Christ as Messiah, and therefore as long as they hold to their false beliefs, they cannot be saved.  Their only hope, and the only hope of any man, is to repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!  

How clearly the Scriptures prove that God is knowable.  And yet the knowledge of God that the believer has is very strictly limited.  It's important for our worship of God to understand that!  Theologians say that God is knowable, but He is not comprehensible.  God is in fact incomprehensible.  You cannot define God.  You cannot fully know and understand Him.  You cannot write a book about God and say, "There, that's all there is to know about Him!"  It is even the case that God cannot fully disclose Himself to us!  He is always greater than our thoughts and conceptions.  He is unfathomable, without limit in being and virtues.  Even as God reveals Himself to us in His Word, one of the things He is telling us is that there is more, oh so much more!  Job asks, "Canst thou by searching find out God?  Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?"  Isaiah exclaims, "Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?  There is no searching of his understanding."  And Paul is at a loss for words at one point in his argumentation to the Romans;  he can only say, "O, the depths!  the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out!"  The most brilliant theologian, the hardest working pastor, the keenest student of the Bible, has only scratched the surface of the knowledge of God. 

It is necessary for salvation that God is knowable;  it is necessary that God is incomprehensible, or He would not be God.  If we could define God, search Him out to exhaustive perfection, say everything about Him that could be said, God would not be God.  God would be no greater than we are, and we would be equal to Him.  But God must be, and is, infinitely greater than the creature.  That's a very humbling truth, is it not?  God is great, God is so overwhelmingly great that our puny minds are not able to comprehendHim in His majesty and glory!  That leads to worship, don't you see?  Live before that kind of a God in humility and fear.  What a privilege and what a blessing just to know Him as we do!

 For that is salvation!  The highest and best thing for a man is that He might know God and enjoy Him forever!  There is nothing better or finer than that!  We live in an age that does not know God and does not care to know God.  But the truth rings down through the ages, "This is life eternal, and that a man might know God through Jesus Christ!"  And knowing God, to glory in God!  We can test ourselves in a moment. Do we really desire to go to heaven, when heaven is seeing, and knowing, and being with the great and holy God, as he is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ? and then glorying in God, world without end?  Will that fascinate you and joyfully occupy you forever and ever?  The man that counts the knowledge of God precious is the man who strives to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  May that be true of His saints until we see Him in the glory of His coming.

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