Coming to know God

Saint Augustine of Hippo once said something along the lines that if you think you know God, and have understood him, you haven't. Which is another way of saying that God is so other than us that we cannot, in our finite creatureliness, grasp him. It is, to use analogy that C S Lewis apparently made, like asking a world made up of one dimensional lines to understand what is meant by a cube. Except harder.

I was reminded of this as I began to prepare to preach on the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all who follow God by faith in Christ Jesus. But he was not always so. When we meet him it is as the son of a man called Terah who (the Bible tells us) worshipped false gods (Joshua 24:2). Given that such things, in those days, ran in the family, we can assume that Abram (as he was then known) was as well. And yet he comes to worship the one true God on the basis of sweeping promises made directly to him by God.

But here is the thing. We are not told that Abram was disatisfied with the gods that Terah worshipped. He is still part of his father's household when God meets with him. Nor are we told that Abram did anything special or that his worship, though misguided, was so sincere that God honoured it. Instead God reveals himself to Abram.

And that has to be the way we get to know God too. If God is truly God then he is infinite in a way that we cannot get our heads round. He is everywhere without ever being contained by any one place or in anyone place. If God is not to be a larger, better, more powerful version of us, he is going to be beyond our reasoning powers. We cannot think our way to him, nor, no matter how sincere we are, can we arrive at him through worshipping things we think might be God. The only way we can know anything about the Creator who created us is if he chooses to reveal it to us. We really ought to get out of our heads the arrogant notion that we can independently figure out God (or "not God" if you think as an atheist). It is an irony that those who label Christians as arrogant for believing that the God they worship is the only God, often do so from the assumption that they know more about God. They "know", for example, that he can be reached through sincere faith no matter how expressed, they "know" that God must be all-embracing and welcome all no matter how they act towards him, etc.

But Christianity is not based on Christians claiming to have figured God out and then seeking to impose that on others. Christians know that all knowledge about God is derived. It comes from that same God to the extent that he chooses to reveal it to us. And he has done so through human words, words that are the only way of communicating with us, and words recorded for us in the Bible. And supremely, he has revealed his character and purposes for us in his Son, Jesus the Christ. We are told in Hebrews 1:3 that "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." Look at Jesus, in other words, and you see God.


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