“The child, the philosopher, and the religionist have all one question: ‘What is God like?'”
This is the second article in a series called The Knowledge of The Holy in which each article will be based around a chapter from A.W. Tozer’s book of the same name (my review). This is a journey worth taking because not only is Tozer’s book a classic in the spiritual world, but the subject matter is God’s character.
Setting out to answer that question is what The Knowledge of the Holy is all about, both Tozer’s book and this series. But therein lies a problem, because, “God is not like anything; that is, He is not exactly like anything or anybody.” Therefore, any attempt to fully describe who God is and what He is like is destined to come up short.
This does not mean the task is fruitless, of course. All of theology and philosophy has tried to answer what God is like, including the Bible itself. As Tozer points out,
“The effort of inspired men to express the ineffable has placed a great strain upon both thought and language in the Holy Scriptures. These being often a revelation of a world above nature, and the minds for which they were being written being a part of nature, the writers are compelled to use a great many ‘like’ words to make themselves understood.”
Grasping for words
This is evident when reading Ezekiel’s visions where time and time again he expresses that something is “in the likeness of,” or in the “appearance of.” John’s grasping in the Revelation is perhaps even more desperate as he cobbles together imagery of jewels and fire and dragons to describe what Jesus revealed.
The point is that Scripture describes God as being like some things with which we are familiar with so that we might know something about Him. But the separation of that-which-is-God from that-which-is-not-God is crucial to maintain, because,
“To think of creature and Creator as alike in essential being is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature.”
To do so obviously results in a God which is no God at all. Pay careful attention to Tozer’s words here, because they are paramount to understanding the dangers of explaining what God is like:
“When we try to imagine what God is like we must out of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made and what He has made is not God. If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end up with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”
A God that fits in our pocket
The result of trying to describe God according to our own thoughts is always idolatry. This should come as no surprise to us today when considering the multitude of books and blogs written which try to redefine God’s character according to the whims of the day. This gives way to personalizing God according to our own terms.
“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.”
We want a God that will fit in our pocket. A God that we can pull out when we need Him.
Thankfully, this is not the God we have.
The God we have
This leads to the critical question: If trying to describe God is so dangerous, how can we know what He is like?
“The answer of the Bible is simply ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.'”
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is the exact imprint of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3), and the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). If we are to know things about God, we are to know them through faith in Jesus. How does that work exactly? Well,
“In Christ and by Christ, God effects complete self-disclosure, although He shows Himself not to reason but to faith and love. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and love and organ of experience. God came to us in the incarnation; in atonement He reconciled us to Himself, and by faith and love we enter and lay hold of Him.”
God revealed all of Himself in Jesus. But He didn’t reveal Himself simply in terms of knowledge, but by faith. Our faith in Jesus informs our knowledge of God’s character, and our love of Him allows us to experience that character. So it is only by faith in Jesus that we come to know and experience God and what He is truly like. The descriptions of who Jesus is and what he taught are recorded in the Bible, which is why it’s inescapable for understanding who God is.
Since the dawn of time, this is what we have longed for. Man has been yearning to know God, to know the divine. Tozer’s words here are too good not to quote:
“The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its Source.”
And in His grace, this is precisely what we have.
“He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself. These will call His attributes.”
Condescending love. What an amazing phrase!
It is only by coming down to our level and making Himself known that we are even to know one thing about God. Whatever knowledge we have was given to us in mercy and grace that we might know and experience the love of the Father that is in Christ.