Known and Unknown

How can we comprehend a mysterious yet personal God?

It’s an honest mistake to believe knowledge consists entirely of facts one can set down on paper. Our knowledge is evaluated, from an early age, based on how well we quantify things, describe them, lay out precisely what they are. The more we can say about something, the more we must know about it.

But then we come to the Lord, or we try to come, and find that we can’t stuff Him into our minds like a multiplication table. Head knowledge certainly didn’t help the Pharisees, the religious experts of Christ’s day. They thought they knew more than anyone about God, and so their eyes were blinded to His presence in the flesh. Lesson learned: The road to some knowledge does not wind solely through the synapses.

Saul of Tarsus (later called the apostle Paul) discovered something about that road. Saul the persecutor stormed toward Damascus in pursuit of members of a troubling new sect—those ill-educated Christ-followers. Saul the hardhearted scholar, whom God met not with a text but with blindness, trained not in a library but in the desert, leveled not with logical propositions but with His voice.

At the start of his own journey with the Lord, Moses sought a name for Him. The Israelites would want to know Who was beckoning them from captivity. “What shall I say to them?” Moses asked. The Lord’s reply: I AM.

The people of God learned much more about Him: He is a whirlwind; He is a small voice; He is love; He is three in one; He is Immanuel enfleshed and among us; He is Spirit; He is life. There is so much to say about God—we might be forgiven for thinking we know Him more deeply the more we compile knowledge about Him in our minds.

He is everywhere present—and ever-present, bearing no past tense, because He has neither beginning nor end. Men and empires pass away, but He is.

He truly is all these things and more, but what He wanted Moses to tell about Him is simply that He is. Never has such a small word carried so much meaning. He is not a collection of attributes that limit Him the moment they are spoken. He is. He is everywhere present—and ever-present, bearing no past tense, because He has neither beginning nor end. Men and empires pass away, but He is.

Kings and scholars grasped for knowledge of Him, that they might put Him in His place. They imagined He may be known as any other entity is known, as an accumulation of facts. They would be confounded—are confounded still—because as long as they seek to make Him fit their sense of how creation should be ordered, they cannot know Him.

I harbored my own share of book-born righteousness, a hunger to know more and still more by reading Bible commentaries and systematic theologies. I wrote and spoke and argued—how I argued—about the finer points of theology, and surveying all this from the innermost place of my heart, I was well pleased. But I was every bit as blind as Saul on that road to Damascus, and without even his legalistic righteousness.

“Do you know the ordinances of the heavens,” the Lord asks Job, “or fix their rule over the earth?” (Job 38:33). Here is a God who says not only that we can’t understand some mysteries of creation, but that it’s not our place to ask. Beware, Paul would write later, of those who professed themselves wise yet became fools (Romans 1:22).

Can anyone fully know God?

Can anyone fully know God? Consider how the Old Testament describes the perils of drawing near to Him. Moses could bear to see only His backside. Uzzah dropped like a stone for reaching out a hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant. We are prone to forget these things about the Lord—that He has an awful holiness beyond our capacity to comprehend, that He is a consuming fire. We can see only dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The pagans back then must have thought it bizarre. Here was this mysterious I AM followed by the children of Israel, refusing, as He did, the traditional honor of being commemorated in ornate statues—so unknowable and holy that any graven image was a sacrilege, yet so eager to be known that He dwelled among them, persisted with them in their apostasies, preserved them in the midst of their enemies.

And then, because they were dying in their sins, He did something even more inscrutable. After having condemned all man-made images, He arrived as a weak, helpless creature: a human baby. This was a mystery even to the angels, who had praised Him since the beginning of their time in heaven. Christ’s humbling and triumph are “things which angels desire to look into,” Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:12).

The devil never saw this one coming. Neither did those who would prove to be antichrists, though they regarded themselves as God’s children. They expected a conquering king. They demanded one. Instead, they received a would-be Savior who had “[no] appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isaiah 53:2). He did not establish a new political kingdom; He told them to render unto Caesar his due. Neither did He give us all what we deserve, declaring instead that the last-hour laborer should receive the same wages as those who toiled righteously from dawn.

They rejected Him because they did not know Him. And they did not know Him because they did not know themselves.

They rejected Him because they did not know Him. And they did not know Him because they did not know themselves—their wickedness, their throats that were open graves, their tongues that spoke evil and called it righteousness. In the end, perhaps this is why any of us fails to know God, because wisdom begins with fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), and we have no fear as long as we are blind to our own sins.

We don’t want to see ourselves for what we are, and so we cannot see Him for all that He is. Indeed the Bible tells us that to “see Him as He is” entails becoming like Him (1 John 3:2). This is a matter not of scholarly knowledge but of obedience to His commandments.

He is in many ways a mystery, even to the angels, and yet He comes. “One thing I do know,” said the man restored by Christ: “that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). This is the work of I AM as well, moving among us in a way the wise do not expect, drawing near and giving sight to all of us blinded by sin. We have seen Him with our eyes, the apostle John writes later, and we have touched Him, and we bear witness, “that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:1-4).

Christ is the bridge between us and the mysteries of heaven. He is a real person in human history—every bit as tangible as Julius Caesar or George Washington or Miley Cyrus—and He is God. How this is possible is not a mystery for me to fathom, and I need not fathom it, any more than a baby need understand the physics by which her father holds her in his arms. I needn’t comprehend all that may be known about God except that I am beneath Him, so very far beneath Him, but He comes to where I am, this great I AM, not because I first loved Him, but because He loves even the likes of me. And though I see but dimly—have only ever seen dimly at best—one day the last of my blindness will be gone (1 Corinthians 13:12).

And then? “I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”

Related Topics:  Sovereignty

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33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look.

2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

25 He then answered, Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--

2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--

3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

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