Who Can Describe God?
John A Carroll
Week 32 in the Word—August 6-12, 2021
How would you answer the question “What is God?” Anselm (AD 1033-1109) said, “God is that than which none greater can be conceived.” Although other philosophers disagreed, he thought this definition proved the existence of God. The Westminster Assembly which produced the Shorter Catechism (1643) stated: “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.4).
The Apostle Paul, who never seemed to be at a loss for words, could not do better than to say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34).
Scholars of language say that great literature excels in description for its appeal rather than on plot lines. Many popular page turners keep us reading because we are intrigued by the twists of the plot. But books like those do not usually warrant re-reading since their appeal is to tease the reader with the outcome. Once the climax has been revealed there is little point to go back because you cannot unknow the outcome and so discover it again. Authors who are skilled in writing description of people, places, and things will be read again and again. When it comes to writing a description of the Holy One, all must bow and recognize the limitations.
How can anyone describe God? A lot of the words we use to describe God tell us what He is not rather than what He is. We say he is infinite (not limited in space), eternal (not limited by time), and unchangeable (what is perfect cannot change). When we say God is holy, we are saying He is set apart and unlike any other being or thing.
As we read Scripture, we find the writers telling us what God is like and the parallels seem so inadequate. He is a rock. He is a king. He is “mightier than the thunders of many waters” (Psalm 93:4). God exceeds all comparisons because all we have to compare Him to are things He has made.
John Calvin refuted the error of those who thought of God as having a body because the Scripture mentions His having a mouth, ears, eyes, hands and feet: “Who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God in so speaking lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so he must of course stoop far below his proper height” (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book I.13.1).
How should we respond to these thoughts about God? We should humbly bow in worship and wonder. May our study of God’s word drive us to marvel at His majesty and praise Him for His great goodness to us mere mortals. We have received His revelation in God the Son who gave Himself, purchased our redemption, and made us His heirs and children.
We will never fully answer the question what is God? But though we cannot comprehend Him with our minds nor describe Him with our words we can know Him truly because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life through Whom we come to the Father (John 14:6). May we never recover from this truth!
Have a great week in the Word.
Week of August 6-12, 2021
August 6/Day 218 Wait Till You Hear This! (Psalms 78; Romans 7) August 7/Day 219 More Than Forgiven (Psalms 79-81; Romans 8:1-17) August 8/Day 220 Denial? No! Hope? Yes! (Psalms 82-84; Romans 8:18-39) August 9/Day 221 When You Despair over the Lost (Psalms 85-87; Romans 9) August 10/Day 222 God’s Faithfulness and Wisdom (Psalms 88-89; Romans 10) August 11/Day 223 Lifelong Fruitfulness (Psalms 90-92; Romans 11:1-24) August 12/Day 224 God Is—The Challenge of Describing the Holy One
(Psalms 93-95; Romans 11:25-36)