Knowing the Incomprehensible God

Regarding the creator-creature distinction, there is no disagreement among Christians as to whether God knows a greater number of propositions relative to man, or whether God understands how all bits of knowledge exhaustively relate to each other in a mode or manner not available to created beings. Indeed, there is a quantitative difference between God’s knowledge and man’s. God simply knows more stuff. But as just alluded to, the mode or manner of how God knows is radically different than how man knows. We may say that God’s knowledge is original and intuitive whereas man’s knowledge is derivative and receptive. No Christian demurs.

Where things get a bit trickier is over the content of what God and man know. Does the proposition God is Spirit have the identical meaning for both God and man? If not, then how can man know God given that for true knowledge to obtain man’s thoughts must intersect the mind of God? Must man know univocally in order to know God?

Revelation, an accommodation:

The object of our knowledge is God’s revelation of himself, which is a replication (or divine interpretation) of the original, intended to accommodate finite creatures. In other words, God reveals himself to created beings through created things – for instance language, laws of inference and categories of thought. Yet the propositions of revelation pertaining to God that are processed through the human mind are not themselves God. They are suitable accommodations to our finitude. Although God knows himself originally and intuitively, he lisps his revelation of himself to us in a manner fitting to our creaturely capacities.

With respect to mode or manner, God cannot have us know him in the same way in which he knows himself. We’d have to share in the divine essence to know God that way. Accordingly, our descriptions of God will be proportional to what God desires us to know through the revelatory mode in which he has allowed us to know him. But again, must man know univocally to know God? If not, then how can man truly know God even partially?

God’s condescension and knowledge of his revelation:

Although we can apprehend God, we can never comprehend God. To comprehend God is to know God exhaustively, as God knows himself. This is why we cannot define God, although we can describe God. Being finite, there are of course limits to what we can know of God because the revelation of God is not God.

God’s revelation of himself is not himself, for God transcends his revelation. The reality behind God’s revelation is greater. Although we do not know univocally, as there is no identity between God’s self-knowledge and our knowledge of the Divine, we are not left to equivocal inferences either. We know God partially and imperfectly, yet we can know God sufficiently and truly. There is true correspondence between the mind of God and man’s, which intersects at the point of analogy (the ectypal).

Because we are limited by the manner in which we can know, we must also be limited to a content that is analogous to what God knows. And although our knowledge is analogical relative to God’s original self-knowledge (analogical to the archetypal), our knowledge in another sense corresponds to God’s, though not directly to the original of God’s knowledge but rather to God’s knowledge of the analogical icons that he has made known to us. In a word, it’s not that we know what God knows (the original), but that God knows what he has allowed us to know (the divinely revealed interpretation of the original). The point of similitude between the divine mind and the creature’s is at the point of revelation, the ectypal. Human knowledge obtains.

What should humble us should not lead us to despair:

Although God is incomprehensible, God is not “wholly hidden.” Although God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and our thoughts can never attain to the heights of God’s thoughts, the things God has revealed belong to us and to our children forever. (Isaiah 55:8,9; Deuteronomy 29:29)

Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.

John 14:9

We receive the eternal reality of the Son through created means:

God is knowable. If nothing else, by revelation we know God is incomprehensible(!), but by grace and pure condescension we know much more. For God has spoken to us in Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Heb. 1:2,3)

Through revelation and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we receive not just the full revelation of God but the whole, undivided Christ. Through Word and sacrament we receive not just revelation, sign and symbol, but by the grace of the Spirit we receive by faith the reality conveyed by those created means, the very Son of God.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:30-31a, 35