Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Problem of Knowing God

The agnostic claims that God cannot be known. And this claim would be true were it not for God’s self-revelation. If left entirely to himself, man could not know God; but man is not left only to himself, for the transcendent God is also immanent. Because man is God's creature living within His creation, God is manifested both internally and externally to man. Therefore the agnostic's agnosticism is willful, self-inflicted, and inexcusable.

Furthermore, God has revealed Himself, in no uncertain terms, in the Holy Bible. He filled the pages of His self-revelation with accurate and objective truth. Certainly, man could not know God if God desired to be unknown but this is not His desire. God has spoken. He has spoken in His world and in His word. Thus, in the universe generally and in the Bible specifically we have context and content for knowing God.           

Man can know God. Let that sink in. What a marvelous truth. Because God wishes man to know, man can know. But it is important that we qualify this claim of knowing God thusly: Man’s knowledge concerning God is apprehensive but not comprehensive. Our knowledge of God is apprehensive and not comprehensive due to the disparity between God and man. That is to say, God is infinite and man is finite. That which is finite can never fully grasp that which is infinite, thus certain theologians refer to the infinite-finite tension as the “problem of the knowledge of God.”

We could add to man’s finitude the noetic effects of sin. And to man’s finitude and sin we could also point out the dilemma of limited semantics, or the limitations of language. Yet for all of this we mustn’t conclude that knowing God is problematic in the agnostic sense of the word “problematic;” for God has addressed and answered this “problem of knowing” in His self-disclosure contained in the Holy Bible.

So then, it is not a question of knowing or not knowing. Rather, it is entirely a matter of knowing apprehensively and partially, versus knowing comprehensively and exhaustively. We must be very clear: There is no problem of knowing God truly and accurately. We can know God truly and accurately because He has truly and accurately revealed Himself to us in the scriptures. We have certain, albeit limited, knowledge of God; i.e. our knowledge of God, as predicated upon the Bible, is true or real knowledge, as opposed to spurious or vain imaginings.

Because of God’s self-disclosure it is not presumptuous or prideful to know that one knows. The “problem of the knowledge of God,” so called, need not lead one down a darkened path of pessimism and agnosticism; but rather the challenge to know God more fully should compel one up the way of God’s self-revelation in humble and fruitful discovery. When we admit that our knowledge of God will never be comprehensive [and this is an eternal "never" because He will ever be infinite and we will ever be finite], we are simultaneously asserting that our knowledge of God is cumulative.

This cumulative aspect of our knowledge of God is exampled in the Bible itself. In the Bible we find the knowledge of God increasing with new revelations, culminating ultimately of course in the Person and revelation of Jesus Christ. Similarly, as our personal knowledge of the Bible increases, our individual knowledge of God increases and matures as well.

Apart from the Bible sinful man cannot know God accurately or adequately or savingly. Likewise, apart from the Bible, the Christian’s knowledge of God cannot grow or deepen. True and objective knowledge of God is not to be found in subjective, mystical experiences. This is why the Christian who pursues the mystical does so by leaving, to some degree or another, the orthodox.

Furthermore, the one who seeks content-less, existential and emotive, or experience oriented revelations of God; denies in practice, the sufficiency of scripture. The scriptures are the only sufficient basis for objectively and accurately knowing God, so let us devote ourselves to the task, the joyous task, of sufficiently knowing them. For one thing is certain: Our love for God cannot surpass our knowledge of Him.

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