Doctrine | God
What does the Bible teach about God?
Question | How can we know God?
Answer | We cannot know God on our own. He must make Himself known, and He has—by His works and His word. He can be known and should be known by everyone.
Scripture | Romans 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
Explanation | We come, now, to our final question about the doctrine of God. And, in many ways, this question addresses one of the most important, practical matters in all of life. For all of human existence and all of our learning (especially, in what the Bible teaches) comes down to this—knowing God. We’ve already seen that God’s purpose in all that He does is for His own glory. But, practically, as it relates to you and me, what this means for us is that God wants us to know Him. And in knowing Him as the Bible describes, we will come to love Him as He deserves. So, let’s look closer at what the Bible says about knowing God.
We cannot know God without Him making Himself known. How do we know anything, let alone, know anything about God? Some of us might say, “Well, I just do.” But that will not do! Nothing just happens, as if out of nowhere, for no reason, apart from anything else, it “just happened.” And, as it relates to knowing God, that doesn’t just happen, either. Let me explain further. First, we cannot know God on our own. Because of who God is and who we are, we are not like Him and are therefore limited in many ways, including not just in our physical abilities, but even in our intellectual abilities. So, because of our creatureliness, we can’t know everything, can’t do everything, and can’t fully exist relying on nothing other than ourselves.1 Meaning, as it relates to our knowing, we don’t and can’t have any knowledge apart from God. In addition, we are also limited by our sinfulness. Because all of us are also sinners, the Bible tells us that we are, on our own, ‘darkened in our understanding’ (Ephesians 4:18)— we do not understand or seek God (Romans 3:11), and we do not know His ways (Psalm 95:10). Second, in order for God to be known, He must make Himself known. Take what we learned in our previous question as an example—God is spirit. How do we see something (or someone) that exists, but is invisible to us? We cannot make the invisible, visible. We can’t even know the invisible exists, unless the invisible reveals itself to us in some way—that is, unless it does something. Similarly, God, who can’t be seen, must be the one to reveal Himself in order for anyone to know anything about Him (for an example of this, see Jesus’ comments about Peter’s knowledge in Matthew 16:16-17). Well, has He made Himself known?
God has made Himself known, by His works and His word. The short answer is, yes, He has made Himself known! As we even learn from our verse above, God can be known because He has shown Himself to us (Romans 1:19). But keep in mind, too, that because we are His creatures, that He has made Himself known to us means that He has come to us, not that we have come to Him. And, His coming to us is all because of Him, not because of us—we don’t deserve Him coming to us, nor on our own do we desire it. So, how has God made Himself known? He has made Himself known in two primary ways. First, He has made Himself known by His works.2 What God has done, is doing, and will do reveals Him to us. We can know something about God by His activity in and with His creation. For example, all that He has made, He has made, in part, to tell us about and point to Himself (Psalm 19:1-6). Also, how He has continually worked with and through people, various governments, human history, and even the order of our physical world, helps us understand more about God (Psalms 78:1-8). Even our own sense of right and wrong, which God has given to us, reveals to us something about Him (Romans 2:15-16). But, while God’s works do make Him known to us truly, they do not do so as fully as we need. So, second, God has also made Himself known by His word.3 Put simply, God is a talking God. He’s not just a doing God. He speaks. And, He has spoken in various ways. For example, the Bible tells us that He spoke all of creation into existence (Hebrews 11:3), that He has at times spoken audibly to different people (Deuteronomy 5:24), and that He has even spoken through dreams and visions (Acts 10). But the Bible tells us that the best way He has spoken—the clearest and fullest way—is by His written word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and His personal word, His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14). We’ll look more at both of these forms of God’s word (the Bible and Jesus Christ) in later questions and answers. For now, though, don’t forget this—we can know God and we will know Him most of all through the Bible and His Son.
We should seek to know God as He has made Himself known. I’ve already mentioned that knowing God doesn’t “just happen.” For sure, we can’t know God on our own. While that’s putting it negatively, we could also put it positively—because God has made Himself known, we have a responsibility to seek to Him as He has made Himself known. This, at least to me, brings up a couple of additional questions. First, what is God’s goal in making Himself known? Answer: that we would come to know Him! What this means is that knowing God is the best thing for us. The Bible tells us that knowing God is essentially eternal life.4 To have and experience the fullness of what Jesus says is eternal life is not simply to live forever, but to know God. Similarly, as God is working in all things to bring about His purposes, He is ultimately working so that the knowledge of Him covers the entire earth.5 Meaning, one of the results of His plans being fulfilled in the end will be that all people on earth will know Him. (In contrast, not knowing God always results in folly and futility.6) Second, does knowing God, today, happen automatically? Answer: sadly, no. Knowing God is not like waking up in the morning and knowing breakfast is ready, because your nose has automatically picked up the knowledge of bacon and eggs. Rather, while God is actively making Himself known (His aroma, if you will), we naturally ignore, refuse, suppress, twist, and contradict the knowledge of Him.7 We, on our own, walk around with stuffed-up (or deadened) senses, unable and unwilling to make use of the knowledge He has provided us. In other words, we do not let His works and, especially, His word make God known to us. Here, again, we need Him. It’s not simply a matter of trying harder, but more of needing a new heart.8 So, we should seek to know God, asking Him for help, and making full and frequent use of the ways that He has made Himself known.9
This is what the Bible teaches about God.
1 Psalm 139: 24 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. (See also, Job 42:3; Romans 11:33)
2 Exodus 10: 1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (See also, Psalm 83:17-18)
3 Hebrews 1: 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
4 John 17: 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (See also, Hosea 6:6)
5 Isaiah 11: 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (See also, Habakkuk 2:14; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:9)
6 Hosea 4: 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (See also, Proverbs 1:7, 29; 2:5, 6; 9:10; Isaiah 5:13)
7 Romans 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (See also, Isaiah 45:5-6)
8 Jeremiah 24: 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (See also, 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:24-25; 2 Peter 1:3)
9 Psalm 111: 2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. (See also, Galatians 4:9; 2 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:3)