If human beings are ever to know the God who is beyond knowledge, it will be because they were marvelously created for such knowledge in the first place; because they have been lovingly re-created and spiritually empowered to enter into the mind of Christ; and because they have followed the disciplined, practical wisdom of the church in order to shape their lives in a manner that consistently supports their lofty aim.

In this entire endeavor, the interpenetration of doctrine and life is evident. Plain and simple, we dare not attempt to speak and think about God in a doxological vacuum. If worship and its accompanying habits have not formed our appetites, how can we expect to relish the meal God sets before us in Christ? Rather than eating, we will be tempted merely to think about our supper, to analyze it, to discuss it, all the while keeping our distance lest our neat, tidy shirts be stained. But knowledge of the mystery comes in the tasting. 

This is why, as important as particular words are in theological discourse, they are not primarily what ultimately matters. The aim of theology is always to move through the words to the authentic, everlasting glory of the transcendent God himself, a glory that no words will ever be able to contain. We have looked biblically, historically, and practically at just how central this incomprehensible glory is for Christian faith and life.1 We have found that it is … well … everything. The idea that we should know the God who is beyond knowledge is at the heart of the biblical portrayal of God; it is a decisive feature of every brand of authentic Christianity that history has produced; and it is foundational to the church’s experience of what it is to be human and to live a holy life of love and beauty before God. The incomprehensible God is the dazzlingly bright sun that dominates the sky every day of our lives, that all the world depends upon and revolves around. 

Recall the famous description that the apostle Paul gives of Christian knowledge of God in 1 Corinthians 13. Expressed in the classic King James idiom, the text says, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Considered in its totality, this statement is conspicuously double-edged. On the one hand, Paul insists that even now, we faithful followers of Christ do see God, we do know God. We are not swept away in the ignorance of the world, in the vain speculations of those for whom God is a mystery” in a sheerly agnostic sense. How could we be? God has made himself known in Christ, and we follow that great Savior. We know. 

On the other hand, we know now only in part”; we see only darkly.” There is an opaqueness now that must one day be overcome. One day, it will be overcome. The time will arrive when we at least see clearly, when we at last know fully, even as also we are known by God himself. On that day, we will know. 

Here is a knowledge worth waiting for. Preaching from this same text in 1 Corinthians, Augustine of Hippo declares, We will see the truth without its wearying us but with eternal delight, and since we will behold it plainly and surely, we will be set afire with the love of truth itself.” We will be satisfied, he says, with a satisfaction that never satiates.” Isn’t this just the opposite of our ordinary experience? In this life we are very rarely fully satisfied, and yet we fairly commonly find ourselves weary with the seeking. What if we could be satisfied to the uttermost and simultaneously energized to seek all the more? What mystery could allow such a marvel? What besides the mystery of God, which, Augustine says in another place, is both sought in order to be found and found in order to be sought? It is sought in order to be found all the more delightfully, and it is found in order to be sought all the more avidly.” 

To seek God, to find God, to know God, to worship God — these are the expressions of an intensely personal learning process that reflects the active involvement of the intensely personal God himself, who creates us for himself, draws us to himself, demands our open and receptive response, empowers us by his Spirit to offer it, and guides us as we seek to become more holy and to understand more fully and to worship more truly and to love more deeply. He is intimately involved at every step. How can the result be anything but extraordinary? 

  1. This article is part of a series on the mystery of God. The material can be found in greater detail in Chris Hall’s book with Stephen Boyer, The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable (Baker Academic, 2012). ↩︎

This series has been adapted from Steven D. Boyer and Chris Hall’s The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable (Baker Academic, 2012).

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Text First Published January 2017 · Last Featured on Renovare.org May 2023