Friday, February 29, 2008

The Knowledge of God, Doctrine of God, Part B

Isaiah 40:27-28: The Incomprehensibility of God

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.” (Isaiah 40:27-28)

Despite the belief of the pagan idolaters that God would not notice their sinful ways (assuming that He was just another finite deity), God not only knew of everything that happened, His knowledge was and is incomprehensible.

Many philosophers of theology today believe that man’s reason by itself can come to conclusions about the extent of God’s attributes. William Lane Craig, a popular philosopher and apologist, is an example:

“Some readers of my study of divine omniscience, The Only Wise God, expressed surprise at my remark that someone desiring to learn more about God’s attribute of omniscience would be better advised to read the works of Christian philosophers than of Christian theologians. Not only was that remark true, but the same holds for divine eternity.”1

Contrary to this, Scripture says that God in His fullness is incomprehensible. That is, though He can be known as He covenantally relates to His creatures2, He cannot be fully fathomed by the human mind:

  • “Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3)

  • “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor 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)

  • “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?” (Romans 11:33-35)

  • “…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

  • (Job 5:9, 9:10-12, 11:7-11, 42:3, Psalm 139:6, Ephesians 3:19, Philippians 4:7, etc.)

Knowledge of God’s incomprehensibility gives us a sense of reverential awe in our worship of Him.

Isaiah 40:6-8: The Immutability of God

“A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” ” (Isaiah 40:6-8)

Unlike the things of the created order which change with time and eventually die out, God is immutable or unchanging. Since all of His attributes relate to one another3, He cannot change His own attributes since to deny one would mean a denial of all the others. This is why Scripture says that “[God] cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13):

  • “I say, ‘O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days, your years are throughout all generations. Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.’” (Psalm 102:24-27)

  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

The greatest example of the immutability of God’s attributes is seen in His moral character. God’s holiness and righteousness is not above Him (as though there were something higher than Himself to whom He must obey) nor is it below Him (as if He could capriciously break His own promises and commandments). Instead, His righteousness flows from His unchanging and unchangeable nature as righteous:

  • “…Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25)

  • “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)

  • Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments. You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness and exceeding faithfulness.” (Psalm 119:137-138)

  • “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

  • (Deuteronomy 32:4, 2 Samuel 22:31, Ezra 9:15, Psalm 18:30, 25:8, 116:5, 143:10, Isaiah 6:3, 45:21, Matthew 5:48, Revelation 15:4, etc.)

In fact, Scripture explicitly states that it is impossible for God to sin because of His immutability:

  • God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)4

  • Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” (1 Samuel 15:19)

  • “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

  • “Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,” (Titus 1:1-2)

  • “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” (James 1:13-14)

  • “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:17-18)

Compare this to a prayer to the Assyrian gods who (like all pagan gods of the world religions) were completely untrustworthy:

“Oh! That I only knew that these things are well pleasing to a god!

What is good in one’s sight is evil for a god.

What is bad in one’s own mind is good for his god.

Who can understand the counsel of the gods in the midst of heaven?

The plan of a god is deep waters, who can comprehend it?

Where has befuddled mankind ever learned what a god’s conduct is?

…O Lord, my transgressions are many; great are my sins.

…O god whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins… The god whom I know or do not know has oppressed me; the goddess whom I know or do not know has placed suffering upon me;

Although I am constantly looking for help, no one takes me by the hand;

When I weep they do not come to my side…

Man is dumb; he knows nothing;

Mankind, everyone that exists – what does he know?

Whether he is committing sin or doing good, he does not know.”5

The gods’ wills, motives, and actions, whether good or evil, were totally unpredictable and untrustworthy. However, our God is called a “Rock” (Gen. 49:24, Deut. 32:3, Psalm 18:2, Isaiah 44:8, Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 3:11, etc.) in that He is trustworthy, both morally as well as physically to save.

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing…”

-Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Isaiah 48:17-19, 22: The Holiness of God

“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, and your offspring like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from My presence…There is no peace for the wicked,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 48:17-19, 22)

Corollary to God’s immutable righteousness is His infinite holiness. Holiness primarily speaks of God’s “otherness”. He is different from His creation not in degree but in kind, or in other words, He is “set apart” from all that was created. God is perfectly righteous, being set apart from all else (Mark 10:18), and hates the taint of sin which He, because of His immutable nature, must punish and destroy (Habakkuk 1:13, Revelation 21:27). Thus, we are to be holy because He is holy:

  • “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44-45)

  • “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’” (Leviticus 19:2)

  • Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

  • “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;” (1 Peter 1:14-15)

  • “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:3)

  • (Leviticus 20:7, 26, etc.)

This attribute of God is captured vividly in Isaiah’s vision:

“In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”” (Isaiah 6:1-7)

God is merciful, but when He displays His holiness so that it will be known, the results are terrifying:

“Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 5-7)

God is called holy constantly throughout Scripture, and this serves as a reminder of the standard to which we are commanded to conform to though we as sinners cannot do so (Romans 3:9-20, 23). In fact, this is the very basis of why Christ had to serve as our substitute, accepting God’s wrath for our sins upon Himself, so that God might be both just and the justifier of the ungodly (Romans 3:26).


1 William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2001), p.11.

2 That is, as He condescends to our knowledge.

3 To quote John Frame: “God’s attributes are not abstract qualities that God happens to exemplify. They are, rather identical to God himself. That is sometimes called the doctrine of divine simplicity. For example, God’s goodness is not a standard above him, to which he conforms. Rather, his goodness is everything he is and does. It is God himself who serves as the standard of goodness for himself and for the world. He is therefore his own goodness. But he is also his own being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, and truth. These attributes, therefore, are concrete, not abstract; personal, not impersonal. Each describes the whole nature of God. So to talk of God’s attributes is simply to talk about God himself, from various perspectives.” –John Frame in K Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton, editors, Revelation and Reason (P&R: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2007), pp.115-116.

4 Dr. Robert Morey notes: “But what about the few passages in Scripture that speak of God’s “repenting?” (See Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:11, 35.) Do these pose any problem to the doctrine of the immutability of God?

First, we have already stated that the immutability of God concerns the being of God. None of the passages in question speak of a change in God’s nature, but rather describe some act of God. Second, all of these passages describe a change in God’s works in terms of His revelation, relationship, or attitude toward man…

First Samuel 15 is a perfect example of the difference between God’s being unchanging in His nature while being capable of change in His relationship to men. In verses 11 and 35, the Lord “repented,” i.e., changed His revealed mind or will concerning Saul. Since Saul had rejected God’s Word, God now rejected Saul’s kingship, and David has to be anointed king in his place (v.26). But lest we assume that God can change in His nature, Samuel adds in verse 29 that God,

…will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man that he should repent (KJV).

Thus in the same chapter where we are told twice that God “repented,” we are also told that God never repents! The liberal theologian will jump at this and cry “contradiction.” But we doubt that the author of 1 Samuel 15 was really so stupid as to compose so blatant a contradiction. Instead, Samuel is reassuring us that the Lord is unchanging in His being and nature even when He changes the revelation of His will or His attitude toward man. The NASV and other modern versions simply translate that God “regretted” or “grieved” instead of “repented.” In this way, it can be clearly seen that it is God’s attitude which is spoken of and not His essence or nature.” (Morey, op. cit., pp.104-105)

5 An Akkadian prayer as quoted in P. Andrew Sandlin, ed., Creation According to the Scriptures (Chalcedon Foundation: Vallecito, CA, 2001), pp.121-122.

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