Nothing can be compared to God. Everything demonstrates Him.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? …remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…

Isaiah 40:12-18, 25; 46:5, 9

Herman Bavinck writes, “For precisely because God is pure being—the absolute, perfect, unique, and simple being—we cannot give a definition of him. There is no genus to which he belongs as a member, and there are no specific marks of distinction whereby we can distinguish him from other beings in this genus.”

God is unique. There is no other. Because of this, there is nothing or no one to whom God can be compared. Yet because of this, God can only be known by comparison. What a marvelous paradox! Because God is unlike all else, the only true sui generis, he can only be known by comparison to things we do know. We know God analogically. We know God through the comparisons reveled to us in his Word and in his world. Because God wants us to know him, he speaks to us in terms we can understand.

Therefore Scripture states that God has:

A face (Ex. 33:20, 23; Isa. 63:9; Ps. 16:11; Matt. 18:10; Rev. 22:4)
Eyes (Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13)
Eyelids (Ps. 11:4)
Ears (Ps. 55:3)
A nose (Deut. 33:10)
A mouth (Deut. 8:3)
Lips (Job 11:5)
A tongue (Isa. 30:27)
A neck (Jer. 18:17)
Arms (Ex. 15:16)
Hands (Num. 11:23; Ex. 15:12)
Fingers (Ex. 8:19)
A heart (Gen. 6:6)
Intestines (Isa. 63:15; Jer. 31:20; Luke 1:78)
Feet (Isa. 66:1)

God is a:
Husband (Hos. 2:16)
Father (Deut. 32:6)
Judge, king, lawgiver (Isa. 33:22)
Warrior (Ex. 15:3)
Builder and architect (Heb. 11:10)
Gardener (John 15:1)
Shepherd (Ps. 23:1)
Physician (Ex. 15:26)

But the realm of humanity is not sufficient, for God is also compared to:
A lion (Isa. 31:4)
An eagle (Deut. 32:11)
A lamb (Isa. 53:7)
A hen (Matt. 23:37)
The sun (Ps. 84:11)
The morning star (Rev. 22:16)
A light (Ps. 27:1)
A lamp (Rev. 21:23)
A fire (Heb. 12:29)
A fountain (Ps. 36:9; Jer. 2:13)
Food, bread, drink (John 6:35, 55)
A rock (Deut. 32:4)
A refuge (Ps. 119:114)
A tower (Prov. 18:10)
A stronghold (Ps. 9:9)
A shadow (Ps. 91:1; 121:5)
A shield (Ps. 84:11)
A road (John 14:6)
A temple (Rev. 21:22)

The Lord reveals himself in these ways to us, for us. So we are not afraid to say:
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God (Exo 15:2)
The LORD Is My Banner (Ex. 17:15)
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer (2Sam. 22:2)
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup (Ps. 16:5)
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18:2)
The LORD is my shepherd (Ps. 23:1)
The LORD is my light and my salvation…The LORD is the stronghold of my life (Ps. 27:1)
The LORD is my strength and my shield (Ps. 28:7)
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Ps. 118:14)
The LORD is my portion (Ps. 119:57)
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:24)
The LORD is my God. (Zec. 13:9)
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6)

All his works declare his praise for all his works demonstrate who he is. Not fully, nor completely, nor essentially. But it is enough to overwhelm the believing heart with wonder. It is enough to draw us onward in passionate pursuit knowing we can never have enough. Our thirst is slaked by increasing our desire for drink. So the yearning heart presses on through the glorious blinding light into the thick darkness where the glory dwells. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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What do the earthquake and tsunami in Japan teach about God and his existence?

“How could God do this?” “What is God doing?” “Why would God let this happen?” There are all easily conceived questions that have certainly been asked by many in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear peril in Japan. In this post I am not going to endeavor to answer them, but wish to address what such questions reveal about man and the existence of God.

Context is everything. In the mouth of an atheist or agnostic the above questions are meant as indictments. They are not so much questions as they are accusations. How can you believe in all-powerful, all-good deity with things like this going on? Such belief is foolish. Certainly this demonstrates no such “God” exists. But in the mouth of a believer, such questions can be honest inquiry into the purpose of tragedy in the divine providence.

But the ragings of an atheist and the questions of the pious both point to something all men have in common: an innate belief that things are not the way they should be. Such unease is latent in all at all times. Hence, the quiet desperation with which the lives of men are lead. But it swells up and reveals itself in times such as these. Why should this be so?

We understand when we see survivors in Japan distraught. We are not surprised at their grief, their questions, or their doubt. But why should others around the world have a similar reaction? Why should I care so much about an event that will likely have a very negligible impact upon me personally? What has happened in Japan has done nothing to measurably impact my life nor the life of the vast majority of the other 6 billion plus people on the globe. But we all share a common response-though certainly not as deep as those immediately affected-of grief and questioning. Why is this so?

I believe Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck is correct in asserting, “…whether people favor a Christian or a humanistic, a positivistic or a historical-materialistic view of history, they always proceed from the belief that history is not a product of fate or chance but guided by a firm hand toward a definite goal.” And again, “…it is noteworthy that belief in guidance and purpose in history is inerdicably implanted in the human heart and an indispensable component in the philosophy of history.”

The very notion of “tragedy” is a demonstration that things in the earth are not as they should be. This notion implies that all have a concept of the way things should be. Everyone knows innately that such things should not happen. Where would such knowledge come from? Would such knowledge come from a big explosion and billions of years of accidents, mutations, and extinctions? A reasoned evolutionist or materialist should never feel such angst. These things happen. It’s just the law of the jungle.

Such dissonance in the soul is best explained by the very existence of the all-powerful, all-good God these events cause us to question. If there is no such Being, these kinds of events should really cause us no bother at all. If there is no such God, the sudden violent death of thousands of people should not bother me at all, it just means more resources for my consumption and survival.

But when our soul cries out in pain with those who suffer we witness to the truth of God’s revelation. We witness to the truth of Genesis 1-3: that this world is not what it is meant to be. We witness to the truth of Romans 8: that the entire creation groans under the burden of sin. We witness to the hope of Revelation 21: that one day all things will be made new.

The fact that mankind grieves at tragedies like the one Japan has suffered is best explained by belief in what Scripture reveals about God and his creation. That men question God demonstrates he exists. That we mourn tragedy demonstrates its foreignness in God’s plan. This is not what God intended. And man knows it.

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.”

Readings in Bavinck: Whose Word are You Going to Believe when it comes to Creation?

In continuing his discussion on revelation, Bavinck identifies the reason science does not have a voice of authority when it comes to the time or method of creation:

At this point these miracles [recorded Scripture] irrevocably belong to history, and in history a different method has to be applied than in natural sciences. In the latter, experimentation is in order. But in history we are dealing with the testimonies of witnesses. If, however, the experimental method has to be introduced and applied in history, there is not a single fact that can stand the test. In that case all historiography is done for. Let every science, therefore, remain in its own area and there investigate things according to their own nature. One cannot see a thing by means of the ear, or weigh them with a yardstick; neither can one test revelation by means of an experiment. (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, pp. 371-2)

In discussing creation, what can everyone agree upon? First, whether it happened 10 thousand or 10 billion years ago, it happened. Whatever opinion one has about creation, it is unquestionably a matter of history. That is agreed upon by all. Secondly, whether it happened by divine fiat or evolutionary development, no human being was there to see it. Whether man came along 6 days or 600 million years after the initiation of creation, he came along after the initiation of creation. Given these two unquestionable facts, one has to accept Bavinck’s statement that in discussing the time and method of creation we are dealing with “the testimonies of witnesses.” Since there were no men there to witness it, we are primarily dealing with the testimony of the one witness was there to see it: God.

If you accept the evolutionary account of creation you declare God to be an untrustworthy witness. God said he created the universe and everything in it, but if the evolutionary account of origins is true, God is a liar. Darwin is a more reliable witness. If you accept one of the Christian-evolutionary hybrid explanations of origins—day-age theory, gap theory, literary framework theory, theistic evolution, etc.—you declare that God is an incompetent witness. While Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, and Hebrews all seem to make it clear God created all things in an instantaneous manner and that he did it not that long ago, God did not know how to tell us how he really created all things.

As A.W. Tozer asserted, at the root of all of man’s problems is a misconception of God. Why do so many people believe so many things about creation? Because they do not believe the truth about God. Hear the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (40:26)
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: (42:5)
Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other. (45:8, 12, 18)

Are these the words of a liar, a babbler, or the Lord?

Bavinck on Believing what Special Revelation Teaches about General Revelation. Or, why I believe God created all things in six days.

Bavinck begins his discussion of revelation with the accurate observation that all religion is built upon revelation. There is no religion without revelation. Biblical religion is built upon two forms of revelation, generally identified as general and special revelation. General revelation is what is “clearly seen” by all men—God’s eternal power and divine nature demonstrated in creation and history (Rom. 1:20). Nature tells us that God is God. It does not, however, tell us how we are to be reconciled to God. For that man is in need of God’s special revelation. Special revelation “is that conscious act of God, by which he, in the way of a historical complex of special means (theophany, prophecy, and miracle) that are concentrated in the person of Christ, makes himself known” (p. 350). This special revelation continues today through Scripture.

What I particularly enjoyed about Bavinck’s treatment of general and special revelation was the connection he drew between the two. For the past century biblical Christianity has been under rather constant pressure to abandon belief in a 6-day creation by the word God. While mainline denominations quickly acquiesced, conservative Christians sought more creative ways to incorporate Darwin into Genesis. Prominent among these innovations was the gap theory popularized by the Scofield reference Bible. Other popular alternatives to the traditional interpretation of Genesis are the day-age theory and the literary framework theory.

Bavinck does an excellent job of addressing the importance of accepting the biblical account of creation:

The work of God outward began with the creation. The creation is the first revelation of God, the beginning and foundation off all subsequent revelation. The biblical concept of revelation is rooted in that of creation. God first appeared outwardly before his creatures in the creation and revealed himself to them. In creating the world by his word and making it come alive by his Spirit, God already delineated the basic contours of all subsequent revelation. But immediately linking up with the event of creation is the action of providence. This, too, is an omnipotent and everywhere-present power and act of God. All that happens is, in a real sense, a work of God and to the devout a revelation of his attributes and perfections.

Any plain reading of Scripture gives the clear impression that God creates the universe and all that is in it instantly by his powerful word (Gen. 1:1-2:1; Ps. 33:6, 9; 148:1-5; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5, that he did so in six days (Gen 1:1-2:1; Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:3-4), and that it was not millions of years ago. In his treatment of creation and our understanding of it, Bavinck is doing the same thing the author of Hebrews does in chapter 11 of his work.

Hebrews 11, of course, is the great chapter of faith: the word is used 26 times in 40 verses. What should not be missed in Hebrews 11 is the organic nature of faith. The faith that draws near to God is the same faith that believes he made everything by his word is the same faith that invigorates obedience is the same faith that leads to inheritance of eternal reward. Faith does these things and it does all these things.

So what fossil that you see is so stunning that it that is causes you to question a conviction of things not seen?

What theory or argument or explanation is so persuasive that it causes you to lose the assurance of things hoped for?

What does Scripture teach about God that causes you to believe he could not have created all things instantly by his word 6-10 thousand years ago? Is he not powerful enough? Not wise enough? Not good enough? “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17). Is it just too hard to believe that God could have done what the Bible appears to teach he did and what the church for centuries taught that he did? Is this too hard for God?

Indeed, creation is “the beginning and foundation of all subsequent revelation.” So when you deny that Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, and Hebrews mean what they say, do not be surprised when your children deny that the Gospels and Romans mean what they say. Do not be surprised when your grandchildren deny any meaning to Scripture. By faith the people of old received their commendation (Heb. 11:2). By lack of faith people of today receive their condemnation.

Herman Bavinck on Trusting in a Big God

One of my goals this year is to read through Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. Not too difficult a task really since it only requires 8 pages a day 6 days a week. (The other day, I am reading a chapter from Gleason’s bio of Bavinck.) This was in yesterday’s reading:

While all virtues can therefore be overdone in relation to creatures, no such exaggeration is possible with respect to God. One can never believe him, trust in him, or love him too much; faith can never expect too much. (vol. 1, p 243)

What a balm to weary souls! You cannot think too highly of God. You cannot trust him too much; love him too deeply; believe him too assuredly. Abandon yourself to the Lord! Leave your troubles with him. He is abundantly able to care for and heal you. O trust in the Lord!

Genesis 18:12-14 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Numbers 11:21-23 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

Psalms 78:19-22 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?” Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.

2 Kings 7:1-2 But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD: thus says the LORD, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”

2 Kings 13:17-19 And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

Isa 7:11 “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”

Jeremiah 32:17-19 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.

Matthew 14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Luke 1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Herman Bavinck decribes the task of Dogmatics in words to make you weep

. . . the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end—God in his beginning, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).

Reformed Dogmatics, Prolegomena, 112

More on witches and ghosts from Herman Bavinck

Within an hour of yesterday’s post on Bavinck, I read something similar a few pages on:

One arrives at metaphysics, at a philosophy of religion, only if from another source one has gained the certainty that religion is not just an interesting phenomenon– comparable to belief in witches and ghosts– but truth, the truth that God exists, reveals himself, and is knowable.
(Reformed Dogmatics, p. 74)

In other words, if you don’t start with God there is not really any way to get to God.

Bavinck lays it all out

Theology as a particular science assumes that God has unmistakably revealed himself; in other words, it assumes the existence, the self-revelation, and the knowability of God and therefore proceeds from a highly significant dogma. . . . If religion is not just a psychological and historical fact, like belief in ghosts or witches, for example, but rests on truth and has an absolute value, then a thinker who views and studies religion in that sense will always end up with God.
(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics trans. John Vriend, vol. 1 p. 37-38)

One of my modest goals for the new year is to read through Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. I “budgeted” 6 days a week, which only requires I read 8-9 pages a day. In other words, it is a very attainable endeavor and you should consider doing it yourself. Anyway…

I am thoroughly enjoying the journey. This quote just made me shake my head and enthusiastically proclaim, “Yes!” Bavinck isn’t here addressing the dispute between evidentiary and presuppositional apologetics, but I think it works. In context he is speaking of the source and aim of dogmatics– whether it is the revelation of God, or the experience of faith. So I think some parallels can be drawn. I just see the whole evidentiary method rather pointless: especially from Reformed folk. If you believe God has sovereignly elected people to salvation, why wouldn’t you believe that God would use the confident proclamation of His word to convict that person? By trying to argue for the truth of God, Scripture etc., you really are just putting The Faith on the level of ghosts and witches.

Bavinck on Perseverance of the Saints

Whatever apostasy occurs in Christianity, it may never prompt us to question the unchanging faithfulness of God, the certainty of his counsel, the enduring character of his covenant, or the trustworthiness of his promises.  One should sooner abandon all creatures than fail to trust his word.  And that word in its totality is one immensely rich promise to the heirs of the kingdom.  It is not just a handful of texts that teach the perseverance of the saints: the entire gospel sustains and confirms it.  The Father has chosen them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), ordained them to eternal life (Acts 13:48), to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).  This election stands (Rom. 9:11; Heb. 6:17) and in due time carries with it the calling and justification and glorification (Rom. 8:30).  Christ, in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20), died for those who were given him by the Father (John 17:6, 12) in order that he might give them eternal life and not lose a single one of them (John 6:40; 17:2); he therefore gives them eternal life and they will never be lost in all eternity; no one will snatch them out of his hand (6:39; 10:28).  The Holy Spirit who regenerates them remains eternally with them (14:16) and seals them for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30)… The benefits of Christ, which the Holy Spirit imparts to them, are all irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).  Those who are called are also glorified (8:30).  Those who are adopted as children are heirs of eternal life (8:17; Gal. 4:7).  Those who believe have eternal life already here and now (John 3:16).  That life itself, being eternal. cannot be lost.  It cannot die since it cannot sin (1 John 3:9).  Faith is a firm ground (Heb. 11:1), hope is an anchor (6:19) and does not disappoint us (Rom. 5:5), and love never ends (1 Cor. 13:8).

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics vol 4 pg. 269-270

Glory to God for salvation in Christ!  I appreciate the fact that Bavinck estimates eternal security as a doctrine intimately connected with the gospel itself.   “It is not just a handful of texts that teach the perseverance of the saints: the entire gospel sustains and confirms it.”  To not believe that the elect are eternally secure is to misunderstand the gospel.  And there are not many things more dangerous to misunderstand.