How does God make himself known? Our triune God, being infinite and everywhere-present, is invisible—and I’ve become more comfortable with this reality over the years. I think there were times when it used to trouble me, the question, Why doesn’t God show himself?
I think I must’ve been picturing God as a very big, stubbornly invisible human being. If he would just “appear,” I’d know he was real! Right?
Sometimes my kids and I play a game we call “Impossible Questions.” We try to come up with questions that are impossible to give logically satisfying answers to—like “Why haven’t I stopped asking this question yet?” or “How many spoonfuls of muffin equal a song?” Deep stuff like that.
Why doesn’t God show himself? is kind of like an impossible question. How could the immense and infinite God “show himself?” What would that look like? If we were able to somehow “stand back” at a distance to take him in, so that we could say “Ah, there he is,” we could at that moment rest assured we’d gotten the wrong god (hence, one reason for the second commandment)! How could God’s infinite essence ever be contained in a field of vision? I am beginning to understand why God didn’t let Moses see all of his glory (Exodus 33:17–23).
But he did show Moses his glory, didn’t he? God does not show himself exhaustively; but he does reveal himself truly. The Scriptures testify that God condescends to make himself known in ways human beings can genuinely understand—understand not perfectly, but genuinely. This is one reason why forever will take forever: we will never finish comprehending God’s glory!
But in the meantime, God makes his invisible attributes known not by appearing in the sky—but through the sky itself (Psalm 8)! The sky—and all the rest of creation, of course. He reveals himself in the works of his hands; he reveals himself through his acts of providence and in particular through his acts of redemption; he reveals himself through words.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on this question—the question I asked at the beginning: How does God make himself known? If creation, providence, redemption, and speech are God’s media, what are his techniques? How does he use these media to reveal himself?
I’ve noticed one “technique” in particular I want to draw your attention to: God makes himself known through comparison and contrast.
Knowing God via Comparison
He does this all the time in Scripture. He is like a rock. He is like the sun. He is like a shepherd. Or is he? Probably we’ve got to put it the other way around, since he’s the original and everything else is derivative: Rocks are a little bit like him; the sun is a dim illustration of his glorious, dazzling purity; shepherds reflect God’s tender, tenacious care, in a way.
As inadequate as any one comparison is to capture God, he’s filled the world with such comparisons! And he loves to use them, apparently, as a look through Scripture shows: streams, fathers, warriors, winds, builders, singers, bread, kings—the list goes on. He has filled the world, filled history, with tiny illustrations of his glory and character, to which he can point and say “I’m like this!”
Our task—our privilege as creatures made like him as well, and designed for relationship with him—is to become practiced in letting his self-revelation in nature, in history, and in Scripture draw our hearts back to him (see Acts 17:24–27). The heavens don’t just testify to God in the way a person’s house bears the marks of an absent owner or a former builder; God is speaking to us now through these things. As Gerald Manley Hopkins puts it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” God is making himself known NOW, in the things that he has made and in the way he sustains them (see Romans 1:18ff, for example).
Tragically, our souls, gutted by the ravages of sin’s infection, struggle to see, struggle to hear. Don’t want to see or hear, apart from his grace (see Eph 2:1–10). Hence our great need for God’s self-revelation in redemption.
Knowing God via Contrast
The nature of God’s relationship to creation and his way of speaking invites us to know him via contrast as well. This can apply, for example, to the very things he offers up as comparisons!
Because God is the Creator and all else is creature, everything to which he can point and say “this is like me” simultaneously possesses qualities that God (and we) can confidently say are not like him. So the rock in its enduring strength is like God; but it’s also not like God because, for one thing, it’s dead as a doornail and cares nothing for those whom it shelters. Hence we are invited, in considering that our God is a rock of refuge, to compare and contrast him with the object lesson the mountain fortress offers us: our loving, all-seeing God is like, but so much better than, any inanimate object, place, or possession on which we set our hope.
God has also built absolute contrasts into creation and time. We can know God better, for example, through the way he frames his own being as perfect holiness and truth in contrast to darkness. God is not like darkness; he is light. God is not like Satan. Heaven is not like hell. These contrasts are absolute. And God makes himself more clearly, more gloriously, known through orchestrating even evil itself to the great end of blessing his people forever with the fullest knowledge of all his goodness that we can endure.
Yet even these contrasts fail to exhaust the infinite character of God. “Showing” himself—via comparison and contrast—is necessary but not sufficient. We want, we need, him to speak to us, too.
Knowing God in Christ
So here’s one more impossible question, of a sort: how could the Son, being God, become man? Given all I’ve said, how could God both show himself and speak to us—through a human being we could see, touch, hug, sing with, cry with?
I don’t know.
I do know that Jesus is the ultimate self-revelation of the Father. God has spoken to us—speaks to us now, will speak to us forever—through this human King. He is the self-revelation of God, come down to us on a creaturely level, yet constantly displaying God to us (Hebrews 1:1–4).
In him the whole fullness of God dwells bodily (see the letter to the Colossians!)—and though we will never know him exhaustively, we who believe in Jesus behold by faith now, and one day by sight, God himself.
In Jesus, God makes himself known in the fullest way possible for a creature to comprehend. In his first coming, Christ displayed (and accomplished) what no other creature, comparison, or contrast could ever convey: God’s grace.
Jesus Christ, the living Savior crucified once for all to deliver us from sin’s curse, became part of the comparison/contrast painting itself, so that he can point to himself and say, “I’m like this.”
And in the gospel, wonder of wonders, we see Jesus—we hear his voice—beckoning us to come to him, and to know our God.
Friends, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and never give up seeking deeper knowledge of him—deeper knowledge of our God. One day, we will see God in the sky. On the day of Christ’s return, every eye will see him. Come, Lord Jesus!