Knowing God

Why Study God?

Next week, we will be wrapping up our Youth Ministry Large Group sermon series in the Book of Exodus with a sermon on chapter 34 which is primarily about the attributes of God. In preparation for this sermon, I was reminded of one of the best books on the subject of the attributes of God. In J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, one is confronted with a God who is far beyond all eyes can see and minds can imagine. Packer has sold millions of copies of this book and for good reason. There are few books that explore the depths of the God of the Bible with so much simplicity. Packer begins his most famous book Knowing God with one of the best openings of any book ever although the opening is not his own words but rather someone else’s. Here is how the book begins:

[Packer begins] On January 7, 1855, the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England, opened his morning sermon as follows:

“It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

“There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise.’ But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’ No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God….

“But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe….The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.

“And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in its immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.”

[Packer’s begins again] These words, spoken over a century ago by C.H. Spurgeon (at that time, incredibly, only twenty years old) were true then, and they are true now. They make a fitting preface to a series of studies on the nature and character of God.

Oh, may God raise up more Packers and Spurgeons who know a God like this and proclaim a God like this!

Creation and God’s Magnificence

Dr. Robert Waltzer is a Professor of Biology and the Chair of the Biology Department at Belhaven College in Jackson, MS, and a ruling elder at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. 

I have greatly appreciated our church’s recent sermon series on Genesis, particularly the sermons on Creation. In his March 10th sermon on Genesis 1:28, Pastor Carl said that all of the music and other forms of art will never be completely created this side of heaven. He also mentioned that electromagnetism, light waves, and other physical entities would never be fully fathomed. I began thinking about how this applies to biology. I agree with the conclusion that Carl made about the physical realm and will lay out my thoughts related to the biological.

In this article I’d like to make 3 points and then some application.

  1. Even if it were possible to achieve all knowledge in biology, we would have difficulty knowing we’ve arrived.

  2. There seems to be a bottomless pit of technical knowledge to be learned about biology.

  3. Focusing on the brain, there are mysteries that may be beyond the realm of science.

Regarding point one, what would it look like to know everything there is to know about a branch of biology? It is not clear that scientists would know that they have arrived at this point. By what criteria would they assess that they have exhaustively understood any particular field of biology (or any area of science for that matter)? This is a deep thought and something to consider as one assesses the limits of knowledge.

On the second point, there is an explosion of knowledge in every area of biology. Each area (dozens) has a professional society which has an annual meeting where thousands of scientists give thousands of presentations on new research. Each presentation will have specialized knowledge, concepts, and terminology. It will address only part of its topic and will raise many more questions than it answers. Knowledge is increasing exponentially, but the answers to questions are only approached and not reached. Scientists are filling up entire libraries every year with new information. Not only is there this expansion of new knowledge, but in a limited world one must prioritize which areas should be studied. In other words, there are areas that could be studied but are not because of limited resources. There are not enough people and resources to study all that could be studied. What does this say about God’s “unbounded capacity of His understanding” (John Ray, Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of The Creation [1714], p. 25)? It is absolutely overwhelming regarding how much knowledge is available but even more so how much more knowledge there is yet to discover!

On the third point, there is a category related to science which I would define as “mystery”. In thinking about neuroscience I have in mind self-awareness and choice, but there are other areas related to the brain and biology. How can one build a system from raw materials that will be aware of itself and have an ability to choose? I have studied cells my entire life. I can see how they can be made into pumps, filters, metabolic processors, gas exchange organs, and many other things. But self-awareness is an entire order of magnitude beyond those things. Choice is also a mystery in a system that is wired so that one action leads to the next, which leads to the next, etc. just as in a circuit or a computer. Secular scientists dismiss these issues in a variety of ways – likely because they don’t have any idea how to answer them. As hard as science is to understand, it’s almost as if God has reserved an exclusive portion for Himself where He is saying, “Don’t even try because you will never understand this”!

Science is a gift from God. He has gifted certain individuals with tremendous insight and understanding (even as they deny the existence of God). What a gracious God who allows humans to understand what He has made in order to improve their lives (and glorify Himself)! We can respond in different ways to God’s Creation. One sinful response will be, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). A godly response is complete and total awe about what God has made: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).[1] A second right response is a contrite heart leading to repentance. This is seen in the words of Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2, 3b,3c). May God open our eyes to see how we should respond to His world.


[1] While the context of the doxology in Romans 11 is God’s plan of salvation, one could apply it to all that God has done, including the work of creation.

Life and Theology

What does it mean to know God? Would we say that it’s primarily knowing a certain set of facts or propositions about God? Does it mean “feeling good” Sunday morning during church? Is it the same as memorizing Bible verses? What if I said that knowing God involves all of the above, and yet a crucial part of knowing God is obedience? To know God is to obey God. That might sound like a strange statement, but I want us to see that it is well-grounded in the Scriptures.

During the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, the Lord commissioned him to deliver this word of judgment against Shallum, the king of Judah: “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:15-16). Notice in this passage that the Lord connects the obedience of the king with knowledge of the Lord.

We see another example in Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus delivers His most withering attack against the supposed “God-knowers” of his day: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). Later in this passage, Jesus calls the Pharisees “sons of hell” (23:15). The very people who were supposed to know God the most actually proved themselves to be sons of the devil (John 8:44). In this second example especially, we can see that there is a vast difference between knowing God and knowing about God. While the Pharisees knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, their lack of obedience demonstrated that they knew the devil far more than they knew God.

We as Reformed Christians need to be reminded of this truth, because we can often equate the knowledge of God with knowledge about God, in ways that appear largely innocent. Perhaps one of the more common ways we do this is by thinking that if we are reading “theological books,” or even the Bible itself, we are automatically becoming more Christ-like. I do not want to discourage the reading of sound theological books, and I definitely don’t want to discourage us from reading our Bibles more. However, as Thabiti Anyabwile has noted, “Good theology does not mechanically lead to good living…We can stack our chips on theology, as though theology inexorably produces the social results we want with little to no attending effort.” This means that we do not become more holy by simply reading Christians books, or even by the bare reading of Scripture, as if by a “mystical osmosis” the words will produce right living. Rather, it is in striving to obey the Word, both in our “vertical” relationship with the Lord, as well as in our “horizontal” relationships with neighbors, that we gain a greater knowledge of God.

We must keep in mind, even as we educate ourselves and one another, that education is not our ultimate goal. Rather, it is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). We should ask ourselves every now and again whether we’re truly growing in our knowledge of God. Perhaps we might be tempted to think that the only way to judge that is whether we’re reading our Bibles for longer periods of time, or whether we’re making it to church every Sunday. These indeed are essential barometers of spiritual growth, but along with these questions, let’s ask whether we are delighting in Jesus more, whether we are seeking justice for the oppressed and poor in our neighborhoods, whether the Bible is in fact coming “alive” in our words and deeds, through our love for Christ and others. While it takes time and effort for us to “connect the dots” between the word of God and the world in which his word is applied, it is well worth it! Let’s press on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3).