To Know God and Enjoy Him

March 09, 2016

by William Edgar

“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” As we come to consider the central reality of the Christian faith, it is well to remember these words spoken to Moses by the Lord, who appeared to him in a burning bush (Exod. 3:1–6). In ancient cultures, removing one’s shoes was the sign of utmost respect for a high dignitary. Here we are in the presence of far more than a potentate. Indeed, Moses was afraid to show his face, for fear of looking at God. We are in the presence of the Lord God, who identified himself to Moses by these words: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6). God is the great I am, the Creator of heaven and earth. But he is also the great Redeemer of Israel, the God of the patriarchs and of all who believe. In the New Testament times in which we live, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the true I am for the ages, the Redeemer of all his people. And so, before him, we should take our shoes off our feet, spiritually. The least we owe to him is the proper fear of reverence.

What distinguishes a specifically Reformed understanding of God from other versions? Reformed theology states the great principle already alluded to and states it more fully than others:

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people! (Ps. 3:8)

The doctrine of God according to Reformed theology gives fullest honor to his power, his love, and his sovereignty as Creator but especially as Redeemer. And so God’s people are provoked to more personal humility and to the greater praise of his name. In discussing God’s nature, then, our aim should always be, less of me and more of him. Several issues are at stake, the first being the knowledge of God.

Can we know God? Does our knowledge of him fit who he really is, or is it only an approximation? The question and the answer are at the core of the Reformed faith.

We know the God who is. We know him truly, without reservation or equivocation.

Can we prove the existence of God? The answer depends on what is meant by the term proof. In a way, everything around us and everything inside us is compelling proof for the reality of God’s person. As Psalm 19:1 reminds us, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork.” As one French astronomer put it, “The universe bristles with intelligence.” Even the negative parts of the world declare God. Romans 1–2 is a study of the way in which something has gone terribly wrong with the world precisely because there is a God whom we know but walk away from in a thousand ways. It argues that evil is a confirmation that God is and that he holds us accountable. The most fundamental reason we can know God, though, is that we are his image-bearers, we are like him, and he does get through by his revelation (Gen. 1:26–27). The essence of being God’s image is the knowledge of God, so that knowledge of anything is possible only because we know God.

This is not to say we can demonstrate the existence of God by a logical or even emotional or aesthetic necessity, starting from a neutral platform and moving inevitably upward, from this world to himself. But, still, we know God. We know the God who is. We know him truly, without reservation or equivocation. We know him because everything around us and inside us speaks eloquently of him. We know him because by him we know all that we need to know about him! As Francis Schaeffer used to put it, “God is there.” But that is something far richer and more meaningful than existence.

Even though we are darkened in our understanding, yet we still see God. The whole world bears his imprint. Everything proves him! We, as God’s image-bearers, are uniquely endowed with the knowledge of God. Our knowledge of God is so true, so direct, that it is as though we had seen him. For unbelievers, this knowledge of God is not comfortable. Yet it is nevertheless real and full (Rom. 1:18–25).

What an amazing thought! We can know God and love him, even though he is incomprehensible.

God is, of course, invisible. He is not a creature that we should see him. Yet, by becoming a man, he made himself visible. To John, for example, he was so accessible that he has no problem explaining that he saw the glory of God: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The reality of seeing God was confirmed by Jesus, who reminded his doubting apostles that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Today, we do not see God in Christ. Yet the essence of what the apostles had received is replicated by us, who know God. We can love him without needing to see him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him,” the apostle Peter tells his believing readers (1 Peter 1:8). Such understanding is not achieved by unaided human reason but by God’s gift. John explains, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true” (1 John 5:20).

What an amazing thought! We can know God and love him, even though he is incomprehensible. His greatness is unsearchable (Ps. 145:3). His understanding is beyond our measure (Ps. 147:5). The knowledge God has of himself and of this world is so great that no one can fathom it (Ps. 139:6; Rom. 11:33–36). But, still, we can indeed know him truly. It would be false humility to claim otherwise, for he has experienced enormous suffering in order to make himself known. We know him truly but not exhaustively. Incomprehensibility is not an attribute of God. It is a limit to human knowledge of the Godhead. Surely that is what Paul means when he says, “[God] alone … dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16). It cannot mean that we have no knowledge of God or any sight of him, as we have just discussed. It means, rather, that he is so far removed from our ways that we cannot equate our ways with his, our knowledge with his; we cannot exhaust him.

This piece is adapted from William Edgar, Truth in All Its Glory: Commending the Reformed Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 98–101. Used with permission of the publisher.

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William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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