“An adorable mystery” by Herman Bavinck

“To a considerable extent we can assent to and wholeheartedly affirm this doctrine of the unknowability of God. Scripture and the church emphatically assert the unsearchable majesty and sovereign highness of God.

There is no knowledge of God as He is in Himself. We are human and He is the Lord our God. There is no name that fully expresses His being, no definition that captures Him. He infinitely transcends our picture of Him, our ideas of Him, our language concerning Him.

He is not comparable to any creature. All the nations are accounted by Him as less than nothing and vanity. ‘God has no name. He cannot be defined.’ He can be apprehended; He cannot be comprehended.

There is some knowledge (γνωσις) but no thorough grasp (καταληψις) of God. This is how the case is put throughout Scripture and all of theology. And when a shallow rationalism considered a fully adequate knowledge of God a possibility, Christian theology always opposed the idea in the strongest terms…

Involved here is a matter of profound religious importance, to which Augustine gave expression as follows:

‘We are speaking of God. Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend. Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend Him, however, is totally impossible.’

God is the sole object of all our love, precisely because He is the infinite and incomprehensible One. Although Scripture and the church, thus as it were, accept the premises of agnosticism and are even more deeply convinced of human limitations and the incomparable grandeur of God than Kant and Spencer, they draw from these realities a very different conclusion.

Hilary put it as follows: ‘The perfection of learning is to know God in such a way that, though you realize He is not unknowable, yet you know Him as indescribable.’ The knowledge we have of God is altogether unique. This knowledge may be called positive insofar as by it we recognize a being infinite and distinct from all finite creatures.

On the other hand, it is negative because we cannot ascribe a single predicate to God as we conceive that predicate in relation to creatures. It is therefore an analogical knowledge: a knowledge of a being who is unknowable in Himself, yet able to make something of Himself known in the being He created.

Here, indeed, lies something of an antinomy. Rather, agnosticism, suffering from a confusion of concepts, sees here an irresolvable contradiction in what Christian theology regards as an adorable mystery.

It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal Himself and to some extent make Himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing.

This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged. But mystery and self-contradiction are not synonymous.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3Ed. John Bolt, and trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 47-49.

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Filed under Christian Theology, Glory of Christ, Herman Bavinck, Humility, Incarnation, Jesus Christ, Puritanical, Quotable Quotes, The Church, The Gospel

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