Question and Answer
The Nature of God
I was hoping you could help me better grasp a difficult part of what God has chosen to reveal to us about Himself. Time and time again in Scripture we read of God's magnificence, infinite power, and nature that is perfect and unchanging. We learn that He is the Alpha and Omega. We also understand that He is one God in three persons. It is the second of these persons, namely Christ, that makes the nature of God so difficult for the limited human mind to explain or understand. The reason being that God "in the beginning" was the same God, yet the second of His persons was not yet incarnate. Christ was the wisdom and purpose of God—the Word to become flesh. Then God placed Himself into His own creation as Jesus, into our time and space history to perform the most incredible of acts by laying down His life for the sake of His people. Finally, Christ returns to sit at the right hand of the Father.
It is a great struggle of mine to contemplate on how God's character seemingly changed (by the addition of human element) with the incarnation of Christ, yet His infinitely unchanging nature and power stays unaffected. In certain parts of Scripture this mystery thickens. For instance, Jesus claims not to know the exact time of the second coming. Is this because the wisdom of God in Christ is being cloaked in the flesh of man? Would that lack of knowledge have existed previous to His incarnation? How is this supported with everything else the Bible reveals about the nature of God?
Perhaps you might be able to shed some light in my direction. I have no intentions to fully understand divinity, but am curious to know as much of our Creator as possible.
Your inquiry brings to mind what the Apostle Paul said to his younger colleague in the gospel ministry: "Great is the mystery of godliness" (1 Timothy 3:16). In the Scriptures the word "mystery" refers to things that we cannot come to know unless and until God reveals them to us. God knows all things, and many things he knows we do not know. We do not know, for example, on what calendar date Jesus Christ will return visibly to the earth. It is also clearly stated in Scripture (Acts 1:7) that God does not intend for us to know this. Indeed, our Lord even made it clear that he himself did not know this (Mark 13:32).
And it is right at this point, too, that we face another vital truth: even the things that we know for sure (because God has clearly revealed them to us) are difficult for us. And it is my opinion that the difficulty can best be stated this way: we know that a certain thing is true, but we cannot comprehend (fully fathom or understand) how it can be true.
Let me try to illustrate. We know that there is only one true God. This is clearly revealed in the Bible from the beginning (Deuteronomy 6:4). But we also know that there are three persons who have an equal claim to that designation (Matthew 28:19). We also know that God is three in one sense (persons) and one in another sense (being, essence or nature). But we cannot really work it all out to the point that we can say "yes, I fully understand this." No! No one fully understands the being of God.
And it is the same with the mystery of the incarnation of the second person of the God-head, our Savior Jesus Christ. We know that he is God and always was God, and that he took to himself a full human nature so that (as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says) he "was, and continueth to be, God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever." As you correctly stated in your note, "Jesus claims not to know the exact time of the second coming." [Mark 13:32] And he claimed this because it was true. In his human nature which he took through the Virgin Mary, he had to learn things in the same way we do. His knowledge of the future (in his human nature) was limited, not infinite. Yet, at the same time, in his divine nature he says "all things have been delivered to me by my father" (Matthew 11:27).
To quote the succinct statement of a modern-day Reformed Theologian (Robert Reymond) "As the Godman, he is simultaneously omniscient as God (in company with the other persons of the God head) and ignorant of some things as man (in company with the other persons of the human race)" (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 224). This statement, riveting though it is, only repeats in a different form what is meant by saying our Lord is both divine and human. And again, we know that this is the truth. How such an amazing conjunction can be we cannot fathom.
You ask "Would that lack of knowledge have existed previous to His incarnation?" The answer is clearly "No." There was no human nature belonging to the second person of the Godhead until he took it upon himself when the fullness of the time had come (Galatians 4:4). And this too—to use a current expression—is quite mind boggling. How can the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever be joined with a changeable finite nature without himself being changed. That this is so is clearly the teaching of the Bible. How it is so we simply cannot fathom. And in this writer's opinion it is a good thing to realize that there is always this aspect to the great truths of the Christian faith. If I could fathom everything it would be a clear indication that it really wasn't God's truth at all. It is the very fact that it is God's truth—the truth of the God who is infinite, eternal and unchanging, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth—that more and more persuades me that this alone is what I need more than anything else in this world. I do hope that some day, when I see Jesus as he is, I will understand much more than I do now about the how. But my present lack of full understanding only makes me more certain than ever that he—Jesus—is the light of the world. All I see in the world outside of him is darkness.
May the Lord give you assurance.
"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)
The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.
The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.
While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.
You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.
The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.
Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been editedall personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expandedto make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.