In so many words, a thirty-something asked me this question the other day: God is unfathomable anyway, so what’s the point of trying to figure Him out? And I believe it’s one of the best questions one can ask. It’s a great question first of all, because of the truth present within the question. God is unfathomable. God tells us directly and plainly:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
And it’s good that He’s beyond our understanding. As it’s been said, a God who’s small enough to understand isn’t big enough to worship. So my thirty-something friend is right. Without question, God is beyond our comprehension.
Explaining Quantum Physics To Sheep Herders
At one point in our conversation my friend said, To me the Bible is like God trying to explain quantum physics to sheep herders.
And indeed it is. It is like God trying to explain quantum physics to sheep herders. Consider Ezekiel’s vision from the book of Ezekiel chapter 1. In it he speaks of four creatures who sparkled like burnished bronze with four wings and four faces. And each creature had a wheel below him. And the spirit of the the creatures was in the wheels. And each wheel was full of eyes. And over the heads of the creatures was a shining expanse like awe-inspiring crystal. And above the expanse was a throne with a gleaming humanoid seated on it.
That is amazing. That vision is amazing because it’s amazingly strange. It’s no wonder that Ezekiel, when he saw this, fell on his face. Who can make sense of such a vision this side of heaven?
Should We Throw Up Our Hands?
So given the boundless unfathomability of God’s nature, why should I even try to figure Him out? It would be impossible to figure out God, it would even be arrogant to try, wouldn’t it?
I think there’s some merit to that line of thinking. Some theologians present their personal speculation as though it were the most concrete immutable fact imaginable. And that’s not right. But what happens to people who throw up their hands and give up on understanding God altogether?
It might sound funny but when I think of that question I’m reminded of women. I’m reminded of what happens on a practical level when we throw up our hands in relationships with our wives. For me, and for most men–oh all right then, for all men–women are unfathomable. I’ll never come close to fully understanding my wife, because she’s a woman, and I’m a man. But what works on a practical level? If I throw up my hands and stop trying, the relationship dies. When I ignore what I do understand about my wife and focus on what I don’t understand, a great chasm forms between us. The roots of our relationship aren’t watered or nourished and we, as a married couple, wither.
The same thing happens in our relationship with God. When I become distracted from what I do understand, the roots of my relationship with God aren’t watered or nourished. And a chasm forms between us. And our relationship, pictured in the scripture as a Husband and His bride, also withers.
How He Loves Us
It works that way from God’s side too. But God is always faithful to love us. And He communicated His love for us most emphatically by coming to us in human form, and dying on our behalf. He communicated His love for us by sacrificing His own son. There is no greater love than this. He also communicates His love for us with His words in His scriptures. The words spoken by His son Jesus, the words written by the Apostles, and the Tanakh, the Old Testament scriptures we see endorsed by Jesus.
And He loves us so much He gave us scriptures that we do understand. And that which we understand is spoken of by Jesus. He said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) You know for thirty years I had this verse edited in my head so Jesus said, Everyone who believes on me will be like a wise man who built on the rock. That is so much easier! But that’s not what He said. He said to do. He said for us to do what He said to do. So God’s expectation for us is to do those parts of the Bible we do understand. If we want that solid foundation, whatever Jesus says to do, we’re to do, in response to His great love for us.
It’s because He loves us that He wants us to act on Jesus’ words. There are blessings associated with following the words of Jesus. And the consequences of doing otherwise are given in the very next verse after Matthew 7:24.
What Ezekiel Did
It’s worth noting that when Ezekiel did encounter an unfathomable vision of God he fell on his face. (Ezekiel 1:28) I think that’s the appropriate response to our God who is too big to understand. His thoughts are so much bigger, His ways are so much higher, He is so much greater, and His love is so much larger: we’re at his mercy. There’s nothing left to do but to fall on our face and worship. There’s nothing left to do but to fall on our face and surrender ourselves to Him.
I think it’s also worth noting that God’s voice came from Ezekiel’s vision. And the main topic of discussion, what He spoke of, at length, was the problem of rebellion. What He communicated to Ezekiel in that vision was that He wants what any earthly father wants for his children: He desires for us to obey, for our own benefit. (Ezekiel 2)
There are amazing and un-understandable portions of scripture for sure. But from the portions of scripture we can understand, it’s clear that, out of love for His children, God desires us to obey. And on a practical level, focusing on the scripture we understand, and doing what that scripture instructs us to do will nourish our relationship with Christ.
Jesus said it directly and plainly:
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…” -Jesus Christ, John 14:23
[Image via Gerard Van der Leun – Creative Commons]