It stands to reason, therefore, in the light of what we have said previously (confer May 15 issue) concerning this attribute of God’s eternity, that it is ultimately impossible to produce a definition in the true sense of the word. This is in a way true concerning all God’s attributes, but especially applies to those attributes which we sometimes call “incommunicable.” The truth of God’s simplicity, together with the divine incomprehensibility, precludes this. God in His eternity is the Incomprehensible One. As time cannot comprehend eternity, and as the creature of time cannot fathom the Eternal One, so it is impossible to define and to delimit this attribute of God’s eternity. He that fails to reckon with this fact makes a fatal error. For in nevertheless attempting to define the indefinable and from the vantage point of time to delimit the eternal, he will say very loudly “Man, creature, time,” when he thinks to say “God, Creator, Eternal One.”
If with this in mind we must nevertheless make a “definition” of this attribute of God, we may say that it is that attribute of God according to which He, negatively speaking, is not bound to any time and, positively, that attribute according to which God, as being above time, lives His infinite, perfect life unceasingly with perfect consciousness.
The significance of this attribute is broad, especially when we take into consideration the fact that implied in this divine perfection are the truths that God is the Uncaused One, the Independent, the Unchangeable, the Incorruptible. He is the I AM. And the practical significance for the faith of the child of God is quite clear in this connection. God’s counsel, God’s purpose, God’s work, God’s election, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s promises—these all are eternal as God is eternal. And before that eternal God I shall humbly , I confess my dependence on Him alone, never ascribe to Him sin, corruption, dependence, change, or any lack or imperfection, trust in Him completely, and hope for eternal glory according to His eternal promises.
When the Sovereign of heaven and earth reveals Himself, it is always as the Incomprehensible One. And therefore, while again we may point to passages of Scripture which directly teach this incomprehensibility of God, we must nevertheless remember that God never reveals Himself in any other wise than as the unfathomable God. Elihu testifies: “Behold, God is great, and we know him not, neither can the number of his years be searched out.” Job 36:26. And in Job 37:5 he states: “God thundereth marvelously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend.” The psalmist testifies in Psalm 139, when he contemplates the omniscience and omnipresence of Jehovah: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” Ps. 139:6. And in vss. 17 and 18 of the same Psalm: “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them ! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” And the psalmist of Psalm 145 extols God as follows: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” Ps. 145:3. In Isaiah 40 we read: “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? . . . There is no searching of his understanding.” Isaiah 40:13-18, 28. And the note of the incomprehensibility cannot be missed in the doxology of Romans 11:33-36: “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? or who hath been his Counselor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
What is implied in this incomprehensibility of the living God?
In the first place, we must be careful to maintain, in the light of Scripture, that God’s incomprehensibility does not mean that we can know and understand nothing of the living God. God is the incomprehensible, but He is not the unknowable. A god whom you and I Can comprehend is not God; but a God whom you and I cannot even know cannot be the object of our faith. Faith in the Unknowable is a contradiction in terms. In the second place, we must always remember that while God is not the unknowable, but certainly can be known by His creatures, He can be known only when and in as far as He Himself makes Himself known to the creature. In other words, God can be known only by revelation. Even as God Triune alone knows Himself with an infinitely perfect and eternal knowledge, so it is He only that is able to impart His knowledge to the creature and to reveal Himself. In the third place, while the Lord our God knows Himself and fathoms His infinite essence eternally and consciously contemplates His own glorious perfections from eternity to eternity, it must nevertheless be remembered that when He reveals Himself and makes Himself known to the creature, this does not mean that He forms a creature capable of receiving His own infinite and eternal knowledge of Himself. Such a creature would have to be infinite as God is infinite. But that God reveals Himself implies that God speaks concerning Himself and imparts the knowledge of Himself in a form in which the creature can receive it and in a creaturely measure. Behind and beyond the plane of revelation there always remain infinite depths of the divine Being and perfections which we can never fathom. In revelation God gives His Word a finite form and comes down to us. And while He reaches out for us and speaks to us in a form that is adapted to our capacity, God through that very means of revelation at the same time deeply impresses upon our minds and hearts that He is always infinitely greater than His own revelation, so that while through that revelation we know Him, we know Him only as the Incomprehensible One. To sum up, therefore, the divine incomprehensibility is that perfection of God according to which, in relation to our creaturely knowledge and understanding, God is always infinitely greater than that knowledge, so that we can never rationally search Him out and explain Him.
The practical spiritual significance of this perfection of God must be evident. In the first place, it implies that we shall not rationalistically construe our own conception of God, which can only be an idol, but let ourselves be instructed and guided by His own revelation of Himself. In the second place, the faith that God is incomprehensible impels one diligently and prayerfully to search the revelation of the living God for an ever clearer and fuller knowledge of Him. And, in the third place; it implies that we shall ever approach that revelation in a humble and worshipful attitude and in the profound consciousness of the depth of God’s riches.
This attribute of God, which is closely related to the essential spirituality of God, is literally taught in Scripture in more than one passage. In Deuteronomy 4:12, 15-19, 23 we read: “And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven . . . Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee.” From the above it is also evident that the invisibility of God is one of the basic implications of the second commandment. In John 1:18 we read: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Romans 1:20also teaches this invisibility of God: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” In Colossians 1:15Christ is referred to as “the image of the invisible God.” This same attribute is mentioned in I Timothy 1:17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” And again, in I Timothy 6:16 it is taught as follows: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.” Finally, in I John 4:12 we read: “No man hath seen God at any time.”
What must we understand by this invisibility of God? Does it merely mean that God is beyond the range of our earthly vision? Or is there more implied in God’s invisibility? Furthermore, does not the Word of God also teach that we shall see God face to face, I Corinthians 13:12 and I John 3:2?
As we mentioned already, this attribute stands closely connected with the truth that God is a Spirit. And not only does it mean that God is not material, like the visible creation, so that He is beyond the range of our earthly perception. But God is essentially invisible. In this respect He is distinguished also from the angels. The angels are heavenly spirits; and as such they are invisible to us who are on the earth now. But they are not absolutely invisible. They are merely invisible to our earthly and material vision. God, however, is pure and absolute spiritual Being. His attributes do not inhere in any substance; He is His attributes. And as pure Spirit, God is at once absolutely and essentially invisible. No man hath seen Him, nor can see Him. He can be known only by revelation. And while the mode of that revelation changes from the plane of the earthly to that of the heavenly, even as we shall be changed from the earthly to the heavenly, this can never mean that we shall see God in His Essence. In Himself God is the Invisible One. And that we shall see Him face to face never can mean that we shall see Him without revelation, but that we shall see Him always in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The significance of this attribute lies, first of all, in the prohibition of the second commandment, namely, that I shall in no wise represent the infinite and invisible God by images. And, positively, it implies, in the second place, that I shall humbly and submissively and joyfully inquire concerning Him in His own revelation and shall long for that perfection wherein I shall see Him face to face through Jesus Christ our Lord.