Higher, Farther, Deeper
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV
Dear Church Family,
In his book on the Trinity, Augustine (5th century) wrote “God is greater and truer in our thoughts than in our words; he is greater and truer in reality than in our thoughts.” In other words, Augustine affirms that he cannot adequately convey in human words what he is thinking about God, but even his thoughts don’t begin to touch the reality of who God really is.
This expresses what some theologians have called “the problem of divine predication” (you should hear ominous music in the background). That just means that human language is incapable of describing God as he really is. I was thinking about this earlier today, and it brought to mind a couple of important observations that I wanted to pass on to you today.
First, the fact that we cannot encapsulate God in human language doesn’t mean we should keep silent about God. We are commanded to exalt in God, to praise his holy name. I remember reading somewhere that the Old Testament is full of words that denote praise, but that they all require outward expression. The popular notion of praising God “in your heart” isn’t really what the Bible emphasizes. Rather, the Bible says things like, “shout for joy!”
When we do praise God, however, we should always remember that our knowledge of God is dependent on his revelation. Lot’s of philosophers throughout history have tried to use logic to say this or that about God. Some of that might be useful, but they often end up contradicting each other. We really depend on God; he doesn’t just tell us what he’s like; he shows us.
This brings me to my second observation. When the Lord declares through the prophet Isaiah that his thoughts and ways are higher than human thoughts and ways, it is in a passage that is urging Israel to seek him while he may be found, and it promises Israel that God’s word will bear fruit on the earth. The point is that “knowing God” in the Bible is primarily relational, not propositional. Think of it this way: even in our normal human relationships, we can’t completely describe our experience of another person in words. I can tell you some things about what it’s like to be married to my wife, Myra, but you can never know fully without experiencing that for yourself.
Likewise, even though our knowledge of God can be enhanced and deepened through the use of words, ultimately our knowledge of God is experiential; it is relational. His higher ways and thoughts make all that he is beyond our cognitive comprehension, but he still condescends to live within us through his Spirit. May you experience God today in your inner being, but don’t forget to shout for joy in all the earth.