How Well Can God Be Known?


In the prior 2 posts, I discussed how God can be known: personally and through special revelation.  In this post, I will briefly discuss how much (in what manner) we can actually know about God.  In other words, can the finite mind comprehend infinite wisdom?

This is really a question that answers itself.  Obviously, if God is eternal, all knowing, and all powerful; his infinite qualities cannot be “fully” understood by mere creatures who are made subject to space and time, have significant limitations, and are damaged by sin.  Sooner could an ant fully comprehend and understand all the thoughts and actions of a human being than a man could understand the ways of the Almighty God.

According to King David, a man who knew God as well as any sinful man could:

  • Ps 145:3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.
  • Ps 147:5 Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
  • Ps 139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

According to David, God has, in His essential nature, a greatness, power, understanding, and knowledge that is unsearchable and un-understandable.  In is in this sense that God is said to be incomprehensible.  This does not mean that man can know nothing of God, but rather it means that He cannot be fully understood by us.  It is always important to keep this essential truth in mind when we consider the ways, workings, and character of our Creator.  This knowledge should humble us and meditating on it should cause us to be overcome with a sense of awe and worship!

In meditating on the infinite wisdom of God, the Apostle Paul exclaims, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord?  … For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom 11:33-36). 

As we learned in the first two posts in this series, this does not mean that we can know nothing of God at all.  Indeed, we can know things about Him by observing his work in nature, and more importantly, we can know Him through His Word by the working of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:10).  The nature of this type of knowledge is apprehensive in nature, rather than comprehensive.  According to the 1828 Webster dictionary, the definitions of these important terms are:

Comprehension – Capacity of the mind to understand; power of the understanding to receive and contain ideas; capacity of knowing.  The nature of spirit is not within our comprehension.

Apprehension – An inadequate or imperfect idea, as when the word is applied to our knowledge of God.

 As Paul says, “who hath known the mind of the Lord?”  Indeed, we haven’t.  In fact, we never shall.  On the basis of 1 Cor 13:12, some Christians are under the impression that we shall know God perfectly in eternity.  This is simply untrue.  If human beings were given the knowledge and power in the eternal state, to know everything of God perfectly, we would be equal to Him in some measure.  This is not what the Apostle is teaching.  Paul is teaching us, in 1 Cor 13, that our personal knowledge of God today is hazy and imperfect, but in that day, we will behold him in a face-to-face fashion.  It is one thing to say you have seen a picture of someone.  It is quite another to have actually met that person face-to-face.  Someone who has only seen a picture of the President has a far less complete understanding of what the president is like than one who has met him face-to-face.  In the eternal state, we are promised something far greater – not just to meet our Creator face-to-face, but to know him!

According to Dr. Wayne Grudem, this doctrine has great application to the Christian life.  If we can never fully comprehend God, we can never stop learning about Him and His greatness – “for we will never run out of things to learn about him, and we will thus never tire in delighting in the discovery of more and more of his excellence and of the greatness of his works.”  He goes on to say, “For all eternity we will be able to go on increasing in our knowledge of God and delighting ourselves more and more in him…”

As says the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end (i.e. purpose) of man?

A: To Know God and enjoy Him forever.

Thomas Vincent writes in his commentary on the catechism:

Q. How will God be enjoyed by his people hereafter?

A. God will be enjoyed hereafter by his people, when they shall be admitted into his glorious presence, have an immediate sight of his face, and full sense of his love in heaven, and there fully and eternally acquiesce and rest in him with perfect and inconceivable delight and joy. “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.”— 1 Cor. 23:12. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”— Heb. 4:9. “In thy presence there is fulness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”— Ps. 16:11

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