Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – The Knowability of God: Can we really know God? How much of God can we know?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In this short chapter, Wayne Grudem defends the idea that God can be known. It begins with how God has revealed himself to us in the Scripture. He then explores the limits of our understanding of God – that God is “unable to be completely understood.” Though we cannot understand God completely, we can understand something about God truly. Everything preserved in Scripture about God is true. But it’s not just facts that we know about God – we can know him as a person. We can have a personal relationship with God, a far greater privilege than knowing mere data bits about God. 

God Revealed Himself to Us

In Romans 1:19, the Apostle Paul declared, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” In other words, God makes it possible to know him because he reveals himself to us. It was not necessary for us to climb the right mountain, perform the correct righteous deeds, or memorize enough Scripture. Instead, it was God who revealed himself to us without any action on our part.   

Moreover, our ability to know God is dependent upon Jesus revealing God to us (Matthew 11:27). This ability is not found through earthly means or wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:21). Instead, it was through God’s voluntary action to make himself known to us. 

We Can Know God, But Not Completely

We can know God. Jesus told us the point of living forever was to know God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) So knowing God is at least part of the experience here and in heaven for believers.  

After God reveals himself to us and we know him, we can even improve our knowledge of God. Peter tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul also expected believers to increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Much like we can improve our understanding of a friend, our spouse, or a child, so also we can improve in our knowledge of God.

However, we cannot understand God completely. Whatever, we know about God or learn about God, we cannot comprehensively understand him because of the limitations of our creatureliness. The Scripture declares in many places God’s ways and character are beyond our complete understanding. 

  • “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:13)
  • “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3)
  • “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Psalm 147:5)
  • “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

Conclusion: We Can Know God Truly

Though we may not be able to understand God completely, we can know God truly. Just as I may not know my wife completely, I can still know true things about her like her birthday and her favorite treat (dark chocolate). In the same way, we can know God is love (1 John 4:8), God is light (1 John 1:5), and that God is spirit (John 4:24) – even if we don’t know these attributes comprehensively.

In addition to knowing true things about God, we can also know God as a person. Jeremiah indicates that a person’s boast should be that a man “understand and knows me.” (Jeremiah 9:24). This is not mere knowing facts or Scriptures, but knowing him as a person. God can be truly known in personal relationship through reconciliation by Jesus and the mediation of the Holy Spirit.   

“Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Special Terms

  • incomprehensible
  • knowable

Resources: Wayne Grudem

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