A Pious Confession of Ignorance

 In the opening section of his discussion of theology proper, Herman Bavinck does a nice job utilizing Augustine and Hilary to explain the biblical teaching that a person can know God truly but not exhastively.   In other words, a person can apprehend God by faith in Jesus, but no one can comprehened him.  The first part of this longer quote is from Augustine’s lectures on the Gospel of John.

“‘We are speaking of God.  Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend?  For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend.  Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge.  To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.’  God is the sole object of all our love, precisely because he is the infinite and incomprehensible One.”

“Although Scripture and the church, thus as it were, accept the premises of agnosticism and are even more deeply convinced of human limitations and the incomparable grandeur of God than Kant and Spencer, they draw from these realities a very different conclusion.  Hilary put it as follows: ‘The perfection of learning is to know God in such a way that, though you realize he is not unknowable, you know him as indescribable.'”

“The knowledge we have of God is altogether unique.  This knowledge may be called positive insofar as by it we recognize a being infinite and distinct from all finite creatures.  On the other hand, it is negative because we cannot ascribe a single predicate to God as we conceive that predicate in relation to creatures.  It is therefore an analogical knowledge: a knowledge of a being who is unknowable in himself, yet able to make something of himself known in the being he created.”

Bavinck goes on to discuss this “adorable mystery,” that the infinite God can make himself known to finite creatures.  He says it well: “This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged.”  Reminds me of Paul’s doxology at the end of Romans chapter 11.

The above quotes can be found in volume 2 of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, pages 48-50. 

shane lems