Sermon for the 14th Sunday After Pentecost, 2005. Text: Romans 11:33-36
God is keeping secrets from you. There is a whole side to God that we’ll never know; there are aspects of His personality that we are never going to be able to fathom, to understand.
Now, if this were something like a premarital counseling session and I were to say that a person’s potential mate was keeping secrets from you, then I’d think it would be pretty safe to say that we’d all be concerned. You can’t have a relationship with a fellow human being who is hiding something from you. But we’re not speaking about a relationship with another human being; we’re speaking about a relationship with God. Should it disturb us that there are things we can’t know about God?
This is not a new thought; theologians have been talking about what we call the “hidden God” for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Even before that, however, the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 45:15, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”
Have you ever felt as though God was hiding Himself from you? What did you think about that? Did you wonder where God was . . . did you wonder why God was allowing this to happen? And you cried and cried and prayed and prayed but still . . . God hid Himself? This God—the God who hides Himself from you, the God who cannot be understood, the God who does strange things . . . this is the God you cannot know.
The God You Cannot Know
The God you cannot know is mysterious. He is the God the Apostle Paul is speaking about in the epistle lesson from today when he says in Romans 11:33-34, “33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"” This hidden God, this unknowable God has great power . . . the word awesome is too small of word to properly describe Him. This hidden God’s ways are beyond our ability to follow, to understand. He does things for which we can’t grasp any reason or rhyme.
No matter how hard you look, you will not be able to see the God you cannot know. Moses, the first and greatest leader of God’s people in the Old Testament, the man whom the Bible says talked with God face to face as a man would talk with his friend, even he could not see God’s face! Oh, he asked once . . . in Exodus chapter thirty three Moses said to God, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
The God you cannot know is too overwhelming for you to look upon. There is something so majestic about Him that if, in your present state, you were allowed to look fully upon Him, would instantly fry your circuits. You’d drop dead. Part of the reason for that is because of His nature, and part of the reason is because of your nature.
We—you and I—have limitations. I was born on this earth and will live on this earth until one day when I die. My life has a beginning and an end. My physical body occupies one single place in both space and time. For instance, I can’t be in both my office working and at home playing video games at the same time, no matter how hard I try! (I tried to combine the two by playing video games in my office . . . but I realized I couldn’t get much done that way!) I can’t be in two places at once any more than I can be in today and next week at the same time. Like you, I need rest . . . I need food . . . I need chocolate. (and because of the chocolate I need exercise!) That’s just part of being human—we are limited, finite creatures.
But God is no creature, but the creator. In I Timothy chapter one verse seventeen Paul describes God in this word of praise. He says, “17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Now how is a limited, finite creature such as myself supposed to understand and know a God who is like that? A God upon whom there are no limits of time or space, a God with—try to wrap your mind around this one—a God with no beginning and no end? It just can’t be done!
The God you cannot know has thoughts you’ll never be able to search out. Only the Spirit of God Himself can know the thoughts of God. In 1 Corinthians chapter two Paul tells us, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” You see, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are above our thoughts, His wisdom is beyond our own, and His power exceeds all our imagination!
The God you cannot know: you can’t plumb His depths, you can’t measure His height, you can’t gauge His breadth, you cannot even begin to wrap your mind around Him . . . and yet the one thing that we want more than anything when trouble hits, when we are confronted by this horrible, mysterious reality of the God we cannot know, the one thing we want this God to do is explain Himself to us. We want to confront the God we cannot know and hold Him accountable.
Why do we want to delve into the hidden God? Why do we probe into the depths of the God we cannot know? What reason would it serve? What do we expect to gain?
I think I can answer that whole question in one word: comfort. We expect to gain comfort. Think about it; how many times have you been in the midst of a severe crises, you’re in the middle of a terrible trial, your faith is being pushed to the limits, and in desperation you cry out, “Oh, God! If I could only understand why this is happening . . . then I’d be okay. Then I could make it through.”
But that’s the thing about the hidden God . . . He doesn’t answer the question “Why?” In my reading of the Scriptures I can’t recall a single time when it was recorded that the Lord ever answered the question “Why?” The closest thing that I can think of would be in the story of Job. Job cried out to God, wailing over the loss of his family, his home, his wealth . . . wanting the God he could not know to give him the answer to “Why?” God came to him, all right . . . but it wasn’t something that Job enjoyed. Instead of giving Job an answer, God came to him and said, “Stand up like a man! I’ve got some questions for you, and you’re going to answer me!” What followed was probably hours upon hours of God peppering Job with questions for which Job had no answer, questions that clearly demonstrated to Job as well as to you and I who is God . . . and who is not. “Job! Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'? 12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?”
Do you have answers for those questions? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Job 11:7-8 "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? 8 They are higher than the heavens-- what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave--what can you know?
The God Who Has Made Himself Known
We can’t! We can’t know the hidden God! Pursuing the God we cannot know goes down a path that leads to despair. Following that path could cause us to lose our faith, because we cannot understand. We cannot know the hidden God . . . but we can know a God who reveals Himself to us. The God we cannot know is full of mystery, He is as strange to us as light is to darkness. But what about the God who reveals Himself to us?
Look again at the Gospel lesson. Matthew 16:13-20 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
We can’t know the hidden God, but in Christ God reveals Himself to us! You see what this means? God knows that we can’t grasp His fullness, that we can’t look upon Him and live, and so He reveals Himself to us in a way that we can understand! We don’t need to probe into the hidden God, we don’t need to know why, we only need to know WHO, and the who we need to know is the revealed God, the God made man Jesus Christ.
Speaking of Jesus Christ, Paul says, in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God—the hidden God, if you will--, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,”
The very thing that forces God to hide Himself from us—his fullness—that is the same thing that God reveals to us in Jesus Christ! All His fullness, all His power, his eternal, immortal, nature—that’s revealed to us in a way that we can understand in Jesus Christ! The One who laid the earth’s foundation, who marked off its dimensions—we know who He is! The One who stretched a measuring line across the gulf between Heaven and earth, winning your eternal victory while all the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy, He is the revealed God in whom we find the answer to any question that needs asking. It’s the revealed God, the God we can know in Jesus Christ that is the foundation, the cornerstone of our hope! Amen!
We put our hope, our faith, in nothing other than the revealed God—Jesus Christ. Martin Luther put it this way, “You must kill the other thoughts and the ways of reason or of the flesh, for God detests them. The only thing you have to do is to receive the Son, so that Christ is welcome in your heart in His birth, miracles, and cross. For here is the book of life in which you have been written. And this is the only and the most efficacious remedy for that horrible disease because of which human beings in their investigation of God want to proceed in a speculative manner and eventually rush into despair or contempt. If you want to escape despair, hatred, and blasphemy of God, give up your speculation about the hidden God, and cease to strive in vain to see the face of God. Otherwise you will have to remain perpetually in unbelief and damnation, and you will have to perish; for he who doubts does not believe, and he who does not believe is condemned.”
The God Who Knows You
The hidden God is the God we cannot know. The revealed God—Jesus Christ—is the God who makes Himself known to us. But the final factor in all this, in the end, is the God who knows you.
There was once a farmer, and on one strange night an early snowstorm hit. As the icy wind howled against his window and the snow piled up against his door, he happened to glance up from the Bible he was reading and looked outside. He saw a flock of sparrows, trapped in his yard by the freak storm.
With the temperature dropping and the weather getting only worse, the farmer’s heart was filled with compassion for these poor little birds who were certainly going to freeze to death without some form of shelter. So the man donned his hat and coat and headed out into the night.
He opened his barn door, hoping that the sparrows would fly in, but the poor creatures just sat in the snow, shivering. He lit a lantern and placed it inside the barn, hoping the light would draw the birds to its warmth and the safety of the barn . . . but still they sat out in the cold.
By this time he was fairly desperate, and he tried everything in his power to get the hapless creatures inside. But no matter how much he tried to draw them, lure them, or shoo them into the barn, all he accomplished was making them flutter away from him in fright.
Frustrated, the man hung his head in sadness, realizing that he could not save the poor birds. “If only,” he thought as he headed back towards his home, “If only I were a sparrow . . . then I could tell them how to be saved.” And with that thought he stopped dead in his tracks, because at last he realized why God had had to make Himself known in the person of Jesus Christ. He did it all so that He could tell us how to be saved.
Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” There is nothing that you do, nothing you need that escapes God’s attention. He knows we can’t understand the depths of His grace, and that is the very reason why He had to find a way to make Himself known to us. We can’t find peace in probing the depths of the hidden God . . . but in Jesus Christ—the God who made Himself known to us—in Him we find all the answers we need.