Knowing the Unknown God

By Francine Grace Tan, Class of ’19
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“Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it—the LORD is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” – Jeremiah 33:2-3

 

In Psalm 14:1 we read, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God”. The Hebrew term translated God in this verse is not Jehovah, which speaks of His unchanging, eternal existence. Rather, it is Elohia, which speaks of Him being the Judge. This is what mankind finds offensive—that God should judge him and hold him accountable for his sins. Many people are willing to acknowledge a deity, as long as it is not the Elohia of Scripture. This is because if they acknowledge God as the Judge, they have to acknowledge morality and accountability to a divine law, so it is easier to have a low view of God—that He is like us (Psalm 50:21). But true religion requires that we believe not only that God exists, but also that He exists with the character which Scripture reveals. Mortimer Adler, a renowned philosopher and legal scholar who edited the longest essay in the 55-volume series, entitled The Great Books of the Western World on the topic of God, writes, “more consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.” That is to say, we need to acknowledge God’s existence and believe what He has said about Himself so that we can boldly approach the throne of grace to receive the free gift of salvation.

 

Why must we think rightly about God?

If one continues to deny God in his mind and heart, or assumes that God the Creator and Redeemer cannot be known, it is extremely tragic. The consequences of not knowing God, include eternal condemnation in hell, not experiencing the Trinitarian joy of knowing God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit (John 15:11). John 17:3 tells us “this is life eternal that they may know You, the only true God.” Knowing God is the only way to eternal life. Yet, people continue to insist on suppressing and denying this knowledge even though their conscience tells them that there is a God and the Law is also written on their hearts (Romans 2:15). God has provided irrefutable proofs for His existence by instilling in everyone some understanding of His majesty through the world, so that no one should seek refuge by claiming ignorance. This is why the apostle Paul writes, “for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). At the outset of his presentation of the unknown God to the Athenian idolaters, Paul also explained that this Creator God “is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:23-25; Psalm 50:9-12). Unlike creation, God is entirely self-existent, uncaused and independent. In identifying Himself as “I AM WHO I AM”, God speaks of His self-existence, His aseity (Exodus 3:14). Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God…”  These opening words of Scripture contain the concept of aseity.[1]Aseity means God is categorically different in His essence from all creatures and He does not owe His existence to anything or anyone outside Himself. In contrast, all other existence depends on God as their Creator, as “All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).

 

Practical Atheism

A man can have an atheistic heart, without an atheistic head. He may not question the existence of God but practices atheism in his heart by becoming a god unto himself and usurps God’s prerogative by making himself his own end. The Devil himself is a practical atheist, as described in James 2:19, “you believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” A.W. Tozer notes that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Thus, not only must we acknowledge that God exists, we must also know who He is and what He requires for those who would know Him.

 

God’s Communicable Attributes

Through God’s revelation in Scripture, He has given us statements by which we can have at least some knowledge of Him, albeit not exhaustively. God is truly knowable but not exhaustively comprehensible. For instance, we know that He is the creator of heaven and earth, the ruler, the sustainer, the God of providence, the self-sufficient one who controls all of history and the one who revealed Himself in creation and conscience. When Moses reminds us of God’s attributes, as He is towards us, he says: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 145).

In Jeremiah, God declares by what qualities He wishes us to know Him: “let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who exercises mercy, judgment, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24). The three enumerated attributes that we must chiefly know are God’s mercy, on which the salvation of everyone depends on; His judgment, which will not let any sin go unpunished; and His righteousness, by which His faithful people are generously preserved. With all these things combined, we have ample cause to boast in God and we can know His power, His truth, His holiness and goodness. In order to have an understanding of God’s mercy, righteousness and judgment, we need to know His unchanging truth—the Bible. And how can we imagine God rules the heaven and earth with righteousness and judgment if we had not heard of His power? And where does mercy come from the perfect Judge, if not from His goodness? If mercy, judgment and righteousness are all His ways, then holiness, which is the crown jewel of God’s attributes, shines forth in them (Calvin, 1563).

 

The Holiness of God

Without holiness, His patience would be an indulgence, His mercy fondness, His wrath madness, His power tyranny and His wisdom mere subtlety. It is the only attribute that is repeated three times in both the Old and New Testament. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3b). “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! (Revelation 4:8b). In the Hebrew language, superlatives are expressed by repeating the word or phrase, the ultimate being its repetition three times, in other words, God is holy, holier, holiest. The root meaning of holy is to cut or separate, but from what can we separate God to make him holy? From everything that is not God. This implies that there is an infinite qualitative difference between God and us; God is set apart unto a classification unto himself that no one else is his equal. Sui generis—in a class by Himself. He is the singular most holy being in the entire universe. God is holy in that He is God and not man (Hosea 11:9). According to the Scripture, holiness is the summation of God’s divine being and apart from it, He would not be God. Steve Lawson encapsulates this well:

“the foundation of God’s throne is His righteousness; the scepter in His hand is His sovereignty, loving kindness fills and floods His heart, grace is extended from His hands, omniscience fills His mind, wisdom rests upon His brow, truth is upon His lips, omnipotence upholds His mighty right hand, the severity of His wrath tramples under foot of His foes but on the top of His head is a diadem—the most sparkling jewel of God’s diadem is His Holiness”.

Therefore, “who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify [His] name?” For [He] alone is infinitely, absolutely, eternally, forever, immutably, fully and wholly holy (Revelation 15:4).

 

The Age of Ignorance is Over

Beyond knowing God for who He is, we must believe in His Word—that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name (John 1:1-14, 20:31). In his address to the Athenians, Paul declared that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent and believe in Christ Jesus, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man who he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17: 30-31). “The times of ignorance God overlooked” refer to the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in the Old Testament. But “overlooking” does not mean letting people get away with their sins because they did not have the written law. Rather, all who have sinned without the law will perish without the law and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law (Romans 2:1-16). All people in the world have enough knowledge of God in His creation and in their own conscience, which they do not live up to and they will be judged on account of it. However, the times of ignorance are over because the mystery of Christ was revealed when He died and was resurrected on the third day. When Jesus first began preaching, He clearly revealed the immanency of God’s judgment when He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). And God is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

 

On the Day of the Lord, everyone will be presented in the courtroom of the kingdom of God before the righteous Judge. No one has any excuse. So how will you fare?

 

Return, O wanderer, now return,

And seek thy Father’s face;

Those new desires which in thee burn

Were kindled by His grace.

Return, O wanderer, now return, and wipe the falling tear:

Thy Father calls, – no longer mourn;

’Tis love invites thee near

—William Benco Collyer

 

Works Cited:
Bavinck, H., & Hendriksen, W. (2003). The doctrine of God. Edinburgh [u.a.]: The Banner of Truth Trust.
Calvin, J., & White, R. The Institutes of the Christian religion.
Chamberlin, D. (1990). A Portrait of God.
The Attributes Of God – Session 6 – Steve Lawson. (2014). YouTube. Retrieved 21 September 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZddiu4qs4Q

[1] The term aseity comes from the Latin phrase a se, meaning “from or by oneself”. This designates a divine attribute by which God is “whatever he is by his own self or of his own self”. (Bavinck, 2003).

 

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