The Knowledge of God
As we start the journey of discovering Christ on the Emmaus Road, we must first recognize that the journey started long ago. Many centuries of Israel’s experience had formed the disciples on the road. In His discussion with the two disciples Jesus appealed to a pre-existing body of evidence that displayed His true identity and mission, walking them through centuries of history and theology as recorded in Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. Jesus reinforced a key doctrine that is the very cornerstone of our belief – the doctrine of revelation. A personal God has made Himself known.
In all cultures and extending through all religions is the idea of the mysterious, something “wholly other.” At the core of religious belief and practice is the mysterious, supernaturally threatening presence. In the soul of humanity is the indelible mark that something out there is so awesome, so powerful, so beautiful that it is terrifying to contemplate and hazardous to behold. Deep within the framework of humanity is a dread, a terrifying sense that something out there is worthy of our worship and can either help us or hurt us in our frail condition.
All cultures have an idea of the mysterious but how is this “wholly other” defined? What is our response to this great mysterious presence? This definition and response is the core of religious belief.
A. W. Tozer stated, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God . . . For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself.”
Solomon stated the same principle in Proverbs, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he”(Prov. 23:7). The Bible goes further to inform us that our conception of God and our response to that conception has eternal consequences. Our eternal existence depends upon knowing God and responding to Him properly (Jn. 5; 8).
3“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (Jn. 17:3)
The Difficulty of Knowing God
How can we know God? Natural observation informs us that if there is a creator of heaven and earth, this being’s power and intellect is beyond our grasp. The simple fact is that we cannot, at least not on our own. The Bible clearly states God is beyond our fathoming. God is transcendent, eternal, all-wise, and all-powerful. He is above all, and the Scriptures testify that He is the incomprehensible One whose power and wisdom are immeasurable:
3Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. (Ps. 145:3)
28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. (Isa. 40:28)
15He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. (1 Tim. 6:15–16)
God’s transcendence, self-existence, and eternality are far beyond that which the human mind can comprehend. Beyond our imagination is this transcendent God who is wholly other than all of His creation. He is infinitely beyond all things in both scope and depth; no one and nothing is comparable to Him. Everything is contained within Him, for in Him all things live and move and have their being. Wrapped in “unapproachable light,” God stands apart from all of creation. Is it any wonder that the four living creatures, full of eyes around and within, do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8).
W. Tozer writes: We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word. Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite.
God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to define Him through natural observation and philosophical reasoning. How do you define something that is wholly other than everything else? Humanity’s fallen mind and demonic deception compound our problem to know God. In multiple ways the Bible clearly testifies of man’s inability to find God on His own.
21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21)
14But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. (Eph. 4:17–18)
The God who Makes Himself Known: The Doctrine of Revelation
Although knowing God exhaustively is beyond our grasp, knowing God truly is not. Scripture reveals that God is personal and made us in His image in order to reveal Himself to us. This fact turns God’s incomprehensibleness into a great blessing, for God will forever reveal Himself anew, displaying new depths of His personality to us.
The feeling for mystery, even for the Great Mystery, is basic in human nature and indispensable to religious faith, but it is not enough. Because of it men may whisper, “That awful Thing,” but they do not cry, “Mine Holy One!” In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures God carries forward His self-revelation and gives it personality and moral content. This awful Presence is shown to be not a Thing but a moral Being with all the warm qualities of genuine personality. More than this, He is the absolute quintessence of moral excellence, infinitely perfect in righteousness, purity, rectitude, and incomprehensible holiness. And in all this He is uncreated, self-sufficient and beyond the power of human thought to conceive or human speech to utter.
We can truly know God because He has chosen to reveal Himself; in fact, He loves to do so. He is the mystery made known. The Bible informs us that God has generally made Himself known in nature, governance of the nations, and in human conscience (Rom. 2:14–15). This general revelation, while leaving humanity without an excuse before their Creator, does not lead us into a comprehensive and saving knowledge of God.
20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)
17“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)
God has also revealed Himself in a specific and special way to humanity. The Scriptures testify that while the other nations worshiped that which they did not know, Israel worshiped the one true God, who made Himself known. God declared His name in a very specific way to the nation of Israel. The Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to Israel:
32“For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. 33Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? 34Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him.
36“Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. 37And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, 38driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day. 39Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” (Deut. 4:32–39)
21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” (Jn. 4:21–22)
God has specifically chosen to reveal Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In the fullness of time, at the wisest point in history, God overflowed and revealed fully the delight of delights, His Son. In the formation of Israel God prepared the world for the unveiling of unparalleled splendor, unimaginable brightness. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The eternal Son became Jesus of Nazareth. What the Father had always so enjoyed, now men and women could enjoy also. The object of the Father’s gaze had now become the object of humanity’s.
2[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:2–3)
God is personal and reveals Himself to us because of our created design and His desire for relationship. In Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes:
Even more significantly, it is God himself whom we know, not simply facts about him or actions he does. We make a distinction between knowing facts and knowing persons in our ordinary use of English. It would be true for me to say that I know many facts about the president of the United States, but it would not be true for me to say that I know him. To say that I know him would imply that I had met him and talked with him, and that I had developed at least to some degree a personal relationship with him.
. . . Several passages speak of our knowing God himself. We read God’s words in Jeremiah:
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jer. 9:23–24)
J.I. Packer writes:
The truly staggering answer which the bible gives to this question is that God’s purpose in revelation is to make friends with us. It was to this end that He created us rational beings, bearing His image, able to think and hear and speak and love; He wanted there to be genuine personal affection and friendship, two-sided, between Himself and us – a relation, not like that between a man and his dog, but like that of a father to his child, or a husband to his wife. Loving friendship between two persons has no ulterior motive; it is an end in itself. And this is God’s end in revelation. He speaks to us simply to fulfill the purpose for which we were made; that is, to bring into being a relationship in which He is a friend to us, and we to Him, He finding joy in giving us gifts and we finding ours in giving Him thanks.
The Glad God of Revelation
The apostle Paul describes the gospel as “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11). God is the blessed, happy God who loves Himself. He infinitely enjoys Himself as the most lovely, beautiful, righteous, kind, pure being that is. As the consummation of all perfection, He is eternally happy. In His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). His holiness is the radiance of all His attributes working in perfect harmony, perfect purity, perfect potency, and perfect gladness. He is beyond everything; no one can compare with the God who lacks not, yet overflows with all His perfections.
Latent within the heart of humanity is a subtle accusation that the invisible God hides Himself from us, revealing very little, while holding us eternally responsible for the little revelation that He gives. Thus our hearts condemn God as both harsh and unfair. However, the biblical witness portrays a very different story.
All Old Testament worship, including the priestly and prophetic ministries, was birthed out of confrontation with the Holy. When God unveiled Himself to the children of Israel, He revealed Himself as holy. The luster and beauty of all His attributes were displayed in order to fascinate the heart and produce the response of worship. It is the encounter with the beautiful, terrifying God that produces worship, ushers in faithfulness, and writes the covenant on the hearts of humanity.
God is the God of pleasure who loves to share Himself, who loves to delight the senses of the ones formed in His image. He is the glorious, delightful God who constructs reality around the unfolding of His beauty, light, and love. How wonderful that the transcendent God loves to manifest and display the illustrious, incandescent essence of the divine, all for our enjoyment and response of love! God is pleasure immeasurable, delight consummate; and the highest honor and joy He could give us is to base our relationship around the subject matter of Himself.
The only reason you exist is pleasure. It is the only reason you were made. Does God need your help? Was God lacking something in His personhood? Of course not. You are the one creature made to mine the depths of the living God. Everything for you has been built around the revelation of God—Him letting you know something about Himself.
He is the God who loves to manifest Himself, to unfold beauty; He reveals Himself through everything that exists. Have you ever asked yourself why God manifests Himself in the way that He does? Why a burning bush to Moses? Why a dark cloud mingled with fire and lightning to Israel at Mt. Sinai? Why a cloud by day and a fire by night? Why a still small voice to Elijah? Why all those weird voices, strange creatures, blinding light, and brilliant colors around the throne, when in heaven a door was opened to the apostle John? Why would the eternal God come as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a Bethlehem manger? Why would God take on the form of a man forever? Two reasons: He can, and for your pleasure.
. In his book, The Idea of the Holy, twentieth-century German theologian Rudolf Otto described religious experience in all cultures. He wrote that the numinous (divine) experience was one containing mystery with regard to invoking fear (mysterium tremendum) and fascination (mysterium fascinans).
. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.
. Ibid., 70.
. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 105.
. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 151–152.
. J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 50–51.