Sunday, January 9, 2011

Comprehending the Incomprehensible

If I said to you, "we cannot truly understand God," would you agree with that statement? How often do you think or say, or hear someone else say something similar? Do we not sing songs that express this very sentiment? Isn't there even Scripture that tells us the same thing? How about Isaiah 55:9?

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Doesn't this all coalesce into an extremely murky and convoluted image of God; one in which God is so far beyond our understanding that we may as well not even try? Isn't that the message we receive from theologians and Bible teachers so often?

What I am building to is this: In Jeremiah 9:23-24 we find a rather familiar section of Scripture. The lesson we usually take away from these verses is basically that we are not supposed to boast about anything about our lowly selves, whether it be our wisdom, our strength, or our riches, but instead to boast in the Lord. But there's a seemingly minor detail which gets left out of our Sunday school lessons and skimmed over in our devotional endeavors. Jeremiah doesn't just say to glory in the Lord, or even to glory in the fact that we know Him...

See, we often talk of how we can know God relationally while being almost completely ignorant about Him intellectually. While this is, at face value, a fair assessment, seeing that God is an infinite Being; the only infinite Being in fact, we must not ignore what God tells us through Jeremiah here. This is what He says: "...let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me..."

God wants us to know Him, sure, but what else does He specify? He wants us to understand Him! Now doesn't that fly in the face of our general understanding of, well, understanding Him? We're not supposed to be able to, right? Wrong! Not only are we able to, but God asks us to.

Before you start getting confident that you'll have Him all boxed up and labeled by this time next year, let's see what else God tells us through His prophet.

"...let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD."

Here's the bottom line: Yes, we can understand Him, but that does not mean that we can fully comprehend Him... comprehensively. It turns out that we are probably right on in one sense when we say that He is too much for us to comprehend. He is! But, He has made it simple for us here to understand His essence. There's infinitely more about Him that we will never know than what we can know, but who He is and what He is like at the core is summed up here in one sentence. Track with me while I break this apart.

He is the Lord. Not a lord; the Lord. He rules. He reigns supreme over time and eternity, over heaven and earth. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess the veracity of this claim. If not here then there...

He has three important practices:
1) Steadfast love. That is unwavering love; love which is not affected in the slightest by us or what we do or don't do. Agape - love which is volitionally unconditional, which means that He chooses to love us despite ourselves.
2) Justice. Basically He sees that righteousness is rewarded and unrighteousness is punished. He upholds the Law, which is synonymous with Himself. The Law is a perfect reflection of who He is and He will make sure that all of creation reflects Him perfectly as a mirror reflects light.
3) Righteousness. This follows, or actually precedes the above. God Himself is righteous. He only ever does what is good because He is only good at His core. He is not just righteous; He is Righteousness, and so He cannot help but practice it.

He specifies here, in case we were wondering if it is only in the heavenly realm, that He practices all of these "in the earth." So, when we, with tear-filled eyes, look around us at the vastness of the reign of evil; as we somberly contemplate the scope and reach of the corruption resulting from Adam's Fall in all its manifestations, both visible and invisible, we need not wonder if He has forgotten us. He practices righteousness in the earth.

Lastly, He delights in these things. What things? In practicing steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. That's obvious, but He also delights in simply being the Lord. Is that megalomaniacal? Not at all. First of all, He is omnipotent, so there is no delusion at all. But, secondly, He knows exactly how bad things would go if someone else were Lord. God delights in being the Lord, I believe, because if He wasn't... the alternative would be unthinkably horrific.

This has been quite a roller-coaster of a blog, which I had originally planned to be a short, inquisitive write-up on verse 24. Please share any comments or questions you might come up with, that is if you get through the whole thing.
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