************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 1j ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 19, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 1j
"God is Incomprehensible"
It is hard to say what God is. It is easier to say what God is not. So we use negative statements to speak about God. When we speak of the self-existence of God, we say God has no origin. When we speak of God’s eternity, we say God has no beginning. When we speak of the immutability of God, we say God has no change. When we speak of the infinity of God, we say that God has no limits. When we speak of the omniscience of God, we say that God has no teachers and cannot learn. All these are negative statements.
In spite of what I have said about God in the previous ten sermons on Belgic Confession Article 1, we don't know what God is like. Whatever you think, it isn't God; instead, what you think is an idol of your imagination. For this reason I have never cared for Michelangelo's picture of the Creation. In this famous painting, God Almighty is pictured as an old, bald-headed man lying on a cloud, pointing His finger down at Adam and bringing him to life.
God is incomprehensible. God is unimaginable. God is inconceivable. You cannot get into your head what God is like, or visualize God’s being. The rule is, if you can think it, God isn’t like that.
Before going any further, let's spend a few moments reviewing what we have learned about God in the last nine messages.
I Review of God's Attributes
A God is eternal. He is without beginning or end. God is self-existent. He wasn't made, He wasn't created; He has always existed and will always exist. To Moses, God said, "I AM WHO I AM." God is the great I AM.
God is eternal. He is self-existent. What does this mean for you and me? It means God is the root, the great mover, the source, the well-spring of all that there is; because there is a God there is a creation and there is life. "In him," says Paul, "we live and move and have our being."
B God is invisible because God is Spirit. He has no extension. He cannot be measured. He cannot be weighed. He takes up no space. He has no body. He cannot be seen. Nevertheless, He is real, He exists. The invisible God reveals Himself to us in both Creation and Scripture. Which means we don't have to prove His existence.
C God is unchangeable. He is immutable. God does not change. God does not grow. God does not improve with age. God is the Lord everlasting. He is eternally the same. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is a consistency to the nature of God.
What does this mean for you and me? This means His Law does not change. What was sin yesterday, is sin today, and will be sin tomorrow. This means His promises do not change. He does not make one promise yesterday, withdraw it today, and then make another one tomorrow. This means salvation and judgment are both steadfast and sure -- believers are assuredly saved in Christ, and unbelievers are assuredly damned on account of their sin. This means if any changes have to be made, they have to be made in us, not God, because God is eternally the same.
D God is infinite. He is immense. He is omnipresent. We cannot put God in a box, we can not confine Him, we can not control Him. And, we can not try to hide from Him. God is fully present, and He is fully present everywhere.
What does this mean for us? This means God sees all of our sin. This means God is always with us and never leaves us or forsakes us.
E God is almighty. He is omnipotent. He rules His creation; His creation does not rule Him. He reveals His might in Creation: He spoke and creation came into being, He created everything out of nothing, He created such a vast creation, and He cares for His creation. We also see God's might in miracles: the resurrection of Lazarus, the provision of Israel while in the wilderness, the feeding of the 5000. God displays His might in redemption: the Exodus, the child of the promise to an aged Abraham and Sarah, the virgin birth, and the resurrection from the grave. And, we see God's power in the consummation of all things at the end of times: a new heaven and new earth. God is almighty. He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
God is almighty. He is omnipotent. Which means all that we can do is bow down, submit to His rule, and obey.
F God is completely wise. He is omniscient. He knows all things. He can see within the heart and discern a man's real motives and innermost thoughts. This means He knows all things about me -- including my sin. Yet -- and this is a miracle of grace -- He still loves and accepts me in Christ Jesus.
God is completely wise. This means He is the source of all truth, all wisdom, all knowledge. This means all truth is coherent and non-contradictory. This means there should be no conflict between science and religion. This means that when God speaks, He knows what He is speaking about and we can absolutely trust His Word.
G God is just. This means He judges rightly and fairly; He never makes mistakes in His judgment; people always get exactly what they deserve. This means He is holy; He is different from all else in Creation and has no moral blemish or stain of sin. This means He is righteous; He always acts rightly. God is the standard for perfection, the norm for ethics, the measure for goodness.
Because God is just, our sin must be punished. And because sin must be punished, we need a Savior. And because we need a Savior, God sent Christ.
H God is good and the overflowing source of all good. This means He provides us all our needs: He gives us life, He gives us food, He gives us Himself.
God is good and the overflowing source of all good. This means He grants us His greatest goodness -- which is His grace.
God is good and the overflowing source of all good. This means He is patient and longsuffering. He wants me and you and all to repent. He does not want any person to perish.
God is good and the overflowing source of all good. This means we can trust Him. This means we may not and cannot doubt that God will provide whatever we need for body and soul. This means we must praise and thank God for all His goodness to us. This means we must repent before it is too late.
II God's Incomprehensibility
A I started work on this sermon a couple of months ago. It occurred to me then that a sermon on the incomprehensibility of God is a fitting conclusion to what the sound doctrine of the Belgic Confession says about God. Because God has revealed Himself to us there are many things we know about God. Yet, we don't know everything there is to know about God. Furthermore, we can't know everything there is to know about God. You see, on top of being eternal, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just, good, and the overflowing source of all good, God is also incomprehensible.
What do we mean when we say God is incomprehensible? To say God is incomprehensible is to say there is much about Him that is mysterious. As we trace His footsteps in this world, we see only the fringes of His ways and touch but the hem of His garment. Listen to the words of Isaiah:
(Isa 55:8) For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.God is beyond our comprehension.
B When we turn to our Scripture reading from Romans we see the same thought affirmed. God is way beyond our comprehension:
(Rom 11:33-34) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (34) "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
When Paul says this, when Paul speaks here about the incomprehensibility of God, He is talking about what God has revealed. Most people think Paul is speaking in Romans 11 about the incomprehensibility of God's secret, unrevealed counsel. And, yes, what God has not revealed is beyond our comprehension. Yet, it is God's revealed will that Paul speaks of as being incomprehensible!
What sort of mysteries are to be found in God's revealed will? What sort of things is Paul talking about? All those attributes we have been looking at, even in them God is beyond our comprehension. For instance, who can really understand an eternal, self-existent God, without beginning or end? I can't. Or, who can understand the infinity of God, that He is beyond and above space, in another dimension, and yet is fully present everywhere? I can't. Or, who can understand the might of God, that there is nothing He cannot do? I can't.
Look at the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. Much is written in them about the trinity of God and Christ's two natures. Yet, how can we really comprehend one God revealed in three persons? Or, who can really explain how the human and divine are united and bound in the one person, Jesus Christ? We believe that it was the human nature of Christ that suffered and died and was buried; we believe that His divine nature did not die upon the cross; yet, we are told that the "two natures are so united together in one person that they are not even separated by his death" and "his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave" (Belgic Confession Article 19). We cannot understand how this can possibly be.
Furthermore, it is a mystery that God can be in full control and yet man is still responsible and held accountable for all his actions, thoughts, and words. It is a great mystery why God would love us so much that the second person of the Triune God took to Himself a truly human nature in order to die the shameful death of the cross. I have always wondered why an almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing God would create the forbidden fruit, let Satan tempt the woman, allow the woman to stretch forth her hand, and permit all of mankind to be plunged into ruin and misery. This too is a great mystery!
In talking of the incomprehensibility of God, Paul is especially talking of the subject he has just dealt with in 4 chapters: election and reprobation. We are told so much, and yet it is way beyond our understanding.
I've told you before about a minister who announced he would meet with anyone who might have spiritual difficulties. Only one came. "What is your difficulty?" asked the minister. The man answered, "My difficulty is the ninth chapter of Romans, where it says, 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,'" "Yes," said the minister, "there is great difficulty in that verse; but which part of the verse is difficult for you?" The latter part, of course," said the man. "I cannot understand why God should hate Esau." The minister replied, "That verse has often been difficult, but my difficulty has always been with the first part of the verse. I never could understand how God could love that wily, deceitful, supplanting scoundrel Jacob."Why indeed? Why does God love Jacob? And, why does He hate Esau?
Paul wants us to conclude that God is incomprehensible in His being, His attributes, and His ways. Even in what has been revealed to us, God is beyond our knowledge and our thought.
C God is incomprehensible. We can try to describe Him; yet, in the final analysis, He is indescribable. We can try to speak of Him; yet, in the final analysis, He is unspeakable. We can try to understand Him; yet, in the final analysis, He is beyond our human understanding.
This means we must be modest and humble in our God-talk. We can't fully say Who or What God is. We can't fully describe Him. We can't understand Him in all His fullness, majesty, and glory.
We all believe in our hearts
and confess with our mouths
that there is a single
whom we call God.
What is this God like? He is eternal, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just, good, and the overflowing source of all good. But in all these attributes, and in so much more as well, this God is also incomprehensible.
Paul, he thinks about God, His being, His attributes, His ways, His revealed counsel or will. He realizes how great and mysterious God really is. He realizes that God is so much more than we know or can possibly realize. So he breaks out in a song of praise to God. He says, "To him be the glory forever! Amen."
Here is a reminder that we must come to God reverently, on our knees. Because you only begin to understand God when you’re on your knees in prayer and praise.
Here is a reminder also that all of our God-talk should always end up in praise to God. All talk about God, all sermons on God, all books about God, all study of God -- His being, His character, His attributes -- miss the mark if they do not help us to praise God. So with Paul we say and sing, "To God be the glory forever! Amen."
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