Do you remember a moment when your theology clicked? When your doctrine felt like a web of interrelated truths rather than just scattered strands of thought?

Understanding God’s passion for his own glory was the moment for me. The Trinity, atonement, creation, God’s sovereignty, and the problem of evil, all appeared clearer once I realized God’s mission wasn’t to create a world in which the greatest number of people would be saved (molinism), but that he desired the praise of his glorious grace.

This gave me the confidence to keep searching for answers.

If there was a takeaway from seminary, it was that answers were out there. And I had the tools to find them.

It’s an awesome feeling when a minor adjustment to our system gives intellectual satisfaction. Pondering Scripture for hours is worth it when we reach a conclusion.

But questions got more difficult. Answers weren’t easy.

If the triune God is fully satisfied and independent of creation, why did he create? Is creator an eternal attribute of God? If so, does this mean he couldn’t choose not to create? There were mysteries of God I struggled to comprehend.

I went looking for more answers. But Augustine didn’t say what I expected. He gave the most rational answer—the historic answer. It was a sobering answer.

“We are speaking of God. Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend. Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.”

For pastors, students, and Christians looking for answers, we need to understand this doctrine before claiming to have any wisdom in our teaching and preaching. Worship is at stake because his incomprehensibility is the reason for our worship in the first place.

The Incomprehensibility of God?

From early on, Christians described God in negative language. It’s easier for us to describe what God isn’t rather than describe what God is. He is not constrained by time, space, weakness, or ignorance. Nor is he dependent on anything or anyone. He has no flaws. He never sins.

One theologian, John Scotus Erigena, says “For God is more truthfully said not to be any of those things that are claimed of him than he is said to be. He is better known by not being known.”

Herman Bavinck says, “That which lies behind revelation is completely unknowable.”

Only God has exhaustive knowledge of himself. We are dependent on revelation. With our language, we can only speak in analogy about God because the only reference we have to the divine comes from our experience in the finite. We will never be able to have all the answers about what God is. We are just assured that God is. That’s enough. And this is the starting point for the task of theology.

We taste and see that the Lord is good as we know more about him. Confessing that we will never fully comprehend God should be like drawing life-giving water from a well that never runs dry rather than waiting in a line that never reaches the front.

God’s Incomprehensibility is the Reason for Worship

If God is limited, he’s not worthy of worship. If we could know everything about him, we are doing what only God could do and that would make us worthy of praise.

But Bavinck writes “God is the sole object of all our love, precisely because he is the infinite and incomprehensible one.”

Hilary of Poitiers says, “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.”

As we recognize our finitude and reach the end of our time-bound creaturely existence, we still know there’s more to know. Praise God for our limits.

Worship of God is encouraged by embracing the mystery. This is not an acceptance of mysticism or agnosticism. Rather, as Ephesians 3:20 says:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (NIV)

The hidden things belong to God. He has placed eternity within our hearts. Let us come behold the wondrous mystery. The incomprehensible God is more than we can imagine.

Beginning Your Theology with God’s Incomprehensibility

Maybe you’ll never be as well-known a theologian as Augustine. But I can assure you that you’re not more enlightened than David when he says, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3).

Scripture teaches that our understanding is limited. But we should still search. We can pursue God truthfully without knowing him exhaustively. Therefore, the task of theology is still fruitful and must be taught.

“Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics” says Bavinck. Strong words for a man whose Reformed Dogmatics stretch over four substantive and highly precise volumes.

We should study theology because it’s the study of God. We should teach theology because we’re called to preach and teach the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Says Bavinck, “Dogmatics does not become a dry and academic exercise, without practical usefulness for life. The more it reflects on God . . . the more it will be moved to adoration and worship.”

If theology isn’t meant to be dry, don’t teach it in a way that your listeners will walk away feeling dry. Communicate the wonder of God.

We can better teach the glorious truths of God if we start with God’s incomprehensibility. If teaching theology ever becomes more about abstract words than about the unsearchable facts of God, stop. Return to Scripture and see yourself in light of his majesty.

Pondering the mysteries of God is a cure for our idolatry.

If we ever appear to have exhausted our knowledge of God, we’ve certainly committed idolatry because we’re no longer talking about God.

Recommended Reading

Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. 2003. Reformed Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic. Vol 2. 27-52.