Herman Bavinck on the Incomprehensibility of God: or, On Knowing the Unknowable.

Bavinck begins God and Creation, volume 2 of his Reformed Dogmatics, with a chapter on the incomprehensibility of God. A pause to consider that subject gives just a hint of the difficulty of the subject. How do you write a meaningful treatment on something that is incomprehensible? But Bavinck does not sidestep the issue.

The central task of dogmatics is to know God. “…the knowledge of God is the only dogma, the exclusive content, of the entire field of dogmatics. All things are considered in light of God, subsumed under him, traced back to him as the starting point. It is the knowledge of him alone that dogmatics must put on display.” And yet, “From the very start of its labors, [dogmatics] faces the incomprehensible One.”

But this does not mean that God is unknowable. Scripture everywhere asserts and assumes that God is known and experienced, even as it teaches he is incomprehensible and incomparable. That God is incomprehensible is necessarily so, for God “cannot fully impart himself to creatures. For that to be possible they themselves would have to be divine.” As Augustine states, “for if you comprehend him it is not God you comprehend.” So we have the summary statement that God can be apprehended, but not comprehended. As Job states, even the clearest and mightiest demonstrations of God are the mere edges of his ways (26:14).

What then is the point of theology? If the goal of theology is the knowledge of God; and if God is incomprehensible; then why pursue the study? Bavinck includes a glorious quote from Hilary, “The perfection of learning is to know God in such a way that, though you realize he is not unknowable, yet you know him as indescribable.” The joy of knowing God is the depth of his incomprehensibility. The knowledge of God is a spring of refreshment never exhausted with depths never plumbed. The hunger and thirst for God is only sated when the pursuit leads to an even greater hunger and thirst.

As Bavinck himself concludes, “It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged.”


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