Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Word of God, Written and Incarnate: How Men Can Know God

How can men know God? Where should we look to find Him?

The answer, humbling as it is to finite and sinful humankind, is that, on our own, we can't. Without his revelation to us, he can't be found. We are dependent on Him to reveal Himself to us. This is for two reasons. First, that God is infinitely beyond us: He is infinite, and transcends the created order. Second, because He is holy, and we are sinful rebels whose ability to know and understand Him has been broken by our sin.

First, God is transcendent. That is, He is not part of the created order, but is the Personal Source of all other being. Since He is outside the created order, created things can only know Him in the ways He chooses to reveal Himself. Failure to grasp the truth of God's utter transcendence will result in the denial that there is a God at all (atheism); or the conception of God as being identical with the cosmos (pantheism); or the conception of God as being coextensive and coeternal with the cosmos but everywhere present within it (panentheism); or the conception of God as being only a part of the created order (paganism, idolatry).

In coming to understand that God is transcendent over creation, though, we must also know that God is immanent within His creation. That is, He is not an absentee Creator who does not interact with the created order, and about Whom nothing can be known except His existence. Rather, He is active in providential care for His creation: he enters freely into it, revealing Himself to His creatures in the ways that He chooses. Failure to grasp the truth of God's immanence will result in the concept of a God Who may exist, but Who cannot be known.

Because He is transcendent, it is only as He reveals Himself within the created order that those within can know Him. Because God is immanent, He has revealed Himself.

So where has God revealed Himself? God is not a natural object that we come to understand as we do with created things, through scientific or rational observation and investigation. We also do not learn to know Him by searching for Him within our own minds and hearts. He comes to us from outside our sin-darkened minds and speaks a revealing and redeeming Word. He is the speaking Subject Who speaks all created things into being, Whose Word comes to us from outside ourselves and effectively accomplishes the revealing and redeeming purpose for which It was spoken. And God's Word comes to us in three forms: the spoken creation, which testifies to God's eternal power and divine nature, the written record of His revelation to the prophets and apostles, and the Living Word who God spoke into history and who continues to reveal Himself through the written Word to God's people. That is, God has spoken in creation, Scripture and in Jesus.

In Creation:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Romans 1:18-20, ESV
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world." Psalm 19:1-4, ESV
In Scripture:
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-16
In Jesus Himself:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1-3, 14 ESV
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." Colossians 1:15-20, ESV
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV
"He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is 'The Word of God.' Revelation 19:13, ESV
How do we know the Scripture as God's Word? And how do we recognize Jesus as God's living Word? Because God authenticates it to us. God's Word, when spoken, requires no authentication beyond itself. Since God is God, His speech is recognized as His speech by those to Whom it is directed. Moreover, there is no higher authority to appeal to if one were to ask God to authenticate that is in fact Him speaking. God Himself is the highest of all authorities. God's word is effective and is always recognized by those to whom it is spoken:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV
"For as the rain and the snow  come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."  Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." John 10:27-29, ESV
This Christmas, as you remember the birth of the Savior, take time to reflect on His identity as God's unique and final incarnate Word to His people. And, if you know Him, worship and thank Him for the indescribable gift He gave in taking on human nature, dying to reconcile us to God, being raised as the proof of God's acceptance of His sacrifice, continuing with us through the Spirit, and for the promise that the day will come when we will see Him face to face and be able to worship Him as He deserves.