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The Impossibility of Fully Understanding God

by Gordie Coffin

The Book of Job begins with a scene in heaven where God contests with Satan about Job. God asserts that Job is a blameless and upright man, while Satan claims that Job’s faith is questionable and intact insofar as God blesses him. Satan believes Job will curse God as soon as adversity hits. God then gives Satan permission to test Job through a variety of ordeals that lead to the loss of his fortune, family, and health.

Over the next 35 chapters of the book, Job and his friends attempt to explain his sufferings through a variety of debates. They analyze Job’s situation and determine causes for his pain. Their conjecture leads to God inserting Himself in chapter 38. Over the next four chapters, God interrogates Job through a variety of rhetorical questions. The interrogation drives home the point that God is all-wise and all-powerful, and Job has no right to speculate, let alone question, God. The book concludes with Job repenting of his ignorance and in verse three of chapter 42 he says, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job was not granted the knowledge to account for his sufferings and his speculation demonstrated his lack of trust in God. Fortunately, Job acknowledged his sin and trusted God in his circumstances.

Job’s account ought to serve as a reminder that God is sovereign in determining what is important to know about Him and what is not. God is gracious in that He has made Himself known. If He had not initiated this revelation, there would be no way for man to know Him. God has limited that revelation to what He has deemed necessary (i.e., the Bible). This leads to an element of mystery, as the pages of Scripture may not answer all of man’s questions about God. Deuteronomy 29:29 addresses this sentiment:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

Israel was not to spend their time speculating on those secret things, but to uphold the law given to them. Similarly, Christians must adhere to the Scriptures as the only source of information about God and acknowledge that there is some information left to God alone.

In Romans 11:33-36, the apostle Paul expresses a beautiful perspective on the mystery of God:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Rather than complain about his desire to have more information, Paul praises the fact that it is impossible to fully understand the wisdom, knowledge, judgments, and ways of God. He then cites two Old Testament passages. The first passage is from Isaiah 40:13 where the prophet asks the rhetorical question about who can know the mind of God to which the answer is that no one can know the mind of God but God Himself. 1 Corinthians 2:16 also cites Isaiah 40:13 and establishes that God has given believers access to His mind by the Word and the Holy Spirit. Paul’s second Old Testament passage comes from Job 41:11 where God makes the point that nothing has been given to Him, but everything comes from Him. Both passages refer to God’s sovereignty to which Paul responds with praise.

Job learned a hard lesson. He admitted to declaring what he did not understand, and it took God’s rebuke to get him back on track. On the contrary, Paul rejoiced in the impossibility of fully knowing God and used it as an occasion to worship. Rather than speculate about God’s intentions, the believer is to trust in the sufficiency of what God has revealed and acknowledge that we will never fully understand all there is to know about God.