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Is God Beyond Words?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 31, 2020 12:01 am

Is God Beyond Words?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 31, 2020 12:01 am

No metaphor or analogy can ever contain the fullness of the majesty of God. Today, R.C. Sproul outlines the limits of our knowledge about the infinite God and our ability to talk meaningfully about Him.

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The best we can ever get when were talking about a transcendent, eternal, infinite being is language that describes him in ways in which he is like no metaphor, no analogy can ever contain or grasp him in its fullness describe God's plan talking about whose incommunicable attributes those characteristics which he alone possesses example we see that God is omniscient.

He knows everything there is to know these omnipotent is all-powerful, but our understanding of those things is limited by our today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. RC Sproul continues his series on the Westminster confession of faith to examine what we can know about God before we go any further. Not with the attributes listed with, but the bidding and character of God. Let me just pick one that we've already mentioned, and use that as an illustration for the very serious problem that we face in theology with respect to how we talk about God we've already mentioned that God is infinite in his perfections infinite in his being know whatever else you and I are. We are finite and John Calvin once had a very famous slogan that went like this in Latin phenytoin noncall parks in fending from the finite cannot contain or grasp the infinite. If I have a glass of water which has a finite volume to it.

I cannot put in it and infinite amount of water is a finite receptacle can't hold an infinite amount of anything and as finite creatures. We can never grasp God fully in his infinitude, and even in heaven were so much more about God will be revealed to us and the way in which our struggling understanding now is affected by ongoing sin will be improved and that near that we look at now darkly will be so much more bright when we step across the threshold and they haven't even in heaven even in our own glorification. We will remain creatures, we will still be finite, and even in heaven we will not have a totally comprehensible knowledge of God, and that's why one of the most important elements will see later, is this doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, which means that no creature can never fully and exhaustively understand God not because of that distinction between the creature's finite and the creator as infinite. We make this crisis of how do you bridge the gap. How can the finite understand anything about the infinite and how can the finite say anything meaningful about the infinite and one of the great controversies of the 20th century in theology was called the God talk controversy and at the heart of that was the popular movement called the death of God. Theology that made time magazine and so on and behind the scenes. What was going on there was this debate about the adequacy of human language, since it is finite to speak meaningfully about God and so that crisis raised all kinds of philosophical questions. They weren't knew these were questions that the church is struggled with for centuries upon centuries upon centuries and we'd look and examine the kind of language that we use to describe God and one of the ways in which we use words in human language to define God or describe God is by what's called the way of negation what's called. Technically, the VIN, the gutsy onus of the wind. I get to Eva. The Neoplatonic philosophers, particularly Plotinus argued the point that as soon as you say anything positive about God you've missed him. If you say affirm anything direct about God. You're not talking about God you're talking about something else because God in his essence is unknowable, and all you can do a circle about God, but you can never land anywhere concretely without falsifying your understanding of God and so Plotinus said the only legitimate way to speak about God is by this way of negation, which is describing God by saying not what he is, but what he isn't well concretely we can talk like this.

I can walk over here and say you see this candle.

What you say you see the candle well folks, this candle is not God's. Well okay will now we know what God is not this candle and we look at this lectern is a God is not the lectern.

Look at me look at my not looking into the eyes of God, because I'm not God either, so I can go and I can begin to cross off the list all possible contenders for who God is, but 4000 saying that's all you can ever do know on the one hand, we don't share this massive skepticism with Plotinus to say that all you can ever do is speak about what God isn't yet at the same time, we recognize that there are times in which using the way of negation is valuable because the way negation points us to the difference between ourselves and God and by pointing out that difference. It points to the grandeur of God, his Majesty the way in which he transcends what we are but one of the most common terms that we use of God by way of negation is that term infinite because what the term infinite means is what not finite, so all were doing is saying. However, we see anything that has bounds and limits do it. Don't attribute that to God because God goes beyond any limitation of space or time or whatever perfection were all of us are limited spatially and temporally and with respect to our being and as far as perfection is concerned.

So we speak of God's being infinite. We are using that method of describing him that we call the way of negation. Other examples would be we say he is immutable. What does that mean that he is without mutation. All creatures that we know of are open to change every one of us is change since we walked in this room tonight if for no other way in which were few moments older than we were before we came in and with that aging process came changes in our molecular structure and so on. And that's true of every created entity. Every creature is mutable, God does not share that quality with creative things. He never changes.

He is immutable. But when we say these immutable were using the language of negation. Now other ways in which the church described speaking about God was speaking about God and what was called the univocal sense or you know vocal sense, meaning that whatever we say about God has the same meaning with respect to him, as it means, with respect to us. If I say that my arm is strong and when I say that God is strong the word strong means exactly the same thing. What's wrong with that.

The problem is that God's strength transcends my strengths and his strength is of a higher level or order of strength then I enjoy, but it's not totally dissimilar to us. There is some similarity between the word strength when applied to us and the word strength that is applied to God and so we say we understand strength at one level at the human creaturely level and if we put a little prefix on there. We get an idea about God and the prefix report. There is Omni. We talk about potency, which is power and then we speak of God is being omnipotent humans. Creatures have limited, finite power, no creature has all power.

Only God is the boat and only God is omnipotent, and so this is the way of ascendancy or the way of eminence that we speak of whereby we project powers or ideas that we experience in this world, and project them to the ultimate degree and then affirm them about God and the reason we can do this is because we believe in. This will get into more fully later that are language about God.

Though it is not due to vocal it's not a one to one correspondence. Neither is it equivocal where the terms change radically but rather the language that we have of God. According to Augustine. According to St. Thomas Aquinas is the language of analogy you learn analogies when you go to school in the northern analogies, like when I say that such and such is like something else, it's not identical, but that they have points of similarity Jesus would speak in parables, and he would say the kingdom of God is like unto this he did say the kingdom of God is this, he said it's like this. For example, when the Bible speaks about God as owning the cattle on a thousand hills speaking metaphorically, choosing an analogy it saying that you understand how powerful and rich the rancher is whose herds are not restricted to one born in 1 acre fenced in pasture. But if that man owns the cattle on a thousand hills that would be some kind of rancher he would be very powerful, like the hunts in taxes or something like that but were not to assume from that that therefore God is the great cattle rancher in the sky who every now and then comes down and has a shootout with the devil at the okay corral remember Cory Tenenbaum when she was imprisoned and struggling in their ministry was hurting him and then ran out of money and she prayed very simply. She said God you own the cattle on a thousand hills. How about selling a few head and giving us the head of the money to help us in our ministry and she prayed metaphorically using the analogies that were taught there in Scripture know when we say that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

We are not to infer from that that God is a cowboy. Yet the metaphor is meaningful because it tells us something about his riches. It tells us something about his greatness, something that we can understand by way of analogy, by way in which certain points are similar between God and man. No, Augustine gave this warning to theologians of his day. What you affirm of God, univocal public or what you affirm of him that in one sense, you have to deny him in the univocal sense what you affirm of him analogically. You must deny you vocal. He speaks always remember that the best we can ever get when were talking about a transcendent, eternal, infinite being is language that describes him in ways in which he is like, but no metaphor, no analogy can ever contain or grasp him in its fullness that that's no reason to jump in to see if skepticism or cynicism because enough very real sense, the only way you and I ever talk and make sense to each other is by some kind of analogy because every word that is in your language in your vocabulary. Has your own understanding of it conditioned by the way in which you've heard it, and the experience you've had with it from your particular perspective in your life. I don't know how old you were when you first heard the word cat and I don't know what comes into your mind when you hear the word cat. We might try some experiments right now here in this class and if I said to you, Bill. What do you think of when you think of a cat.

What you think of a nice pet. What color gray K domestic shorthair, just a house cat.

So for him when he hears the word cat the associates with his gray house but you know shorthair domestic zone somebody else's experience with cats may be connected with the Siamese or some other kind Lame say cat nursing big cat you thinking Tiger you're thinking that in ocelot or something like that so that your understanding of that word cat is in your own mind conditioned to some degree by your experience, how you learn the word. What's the framework in which that word appears in your vocabulary and your understanding.

This may seem ridiculous to talk about that. But even though my idea of cat is not exactly the same as your idea of cat when you say to me there's a cat running loose in the church. I don't stop and say to Bill is a minx's angora is a tiger in the I'll just take whatever image I haven't gotten start looking for this little thing that's running around the church because our experience of cats is similar enough that even though they're not precisely exact.

We still can communicate.

We can still have meaningful discourse and discussion. Even though we come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences and so all I'm saying is that no two people's vocabulary meets each other's in terms of their precise and complete understanding on a one-to-one basis, but in any case, it's important for us to understand that when we speak about God. We are speaking about God because God has spoken to us and revealed himself to us in our language and he'll talk about himself as if he had a body will hear of the right hand of the Lord will hear about his eye that sees all things, and yet at the same time. After using all these images that communicate something to us about himself that held pulled on the blind and safe. Remember I am not a man. The Bible will use language that God changes his mind or even the God repents, but then we warned again. Remember I'm only speaking in human terms because those the only terms you have. I remember when the Paul Tillich was trying to wrestle with this problem of our language and the limits of human language try to make an important distinction between signs and symbols, and so on and trying to get us to understand the limitations of our statements about God. He got himself confused. He was lecturing at Chicago and he said it's improper to say that God is a being, because we have these categories of being a non-day. He said don't. God is not the being.

He's the ground of being.

And then he said we can't attribute attributes drawn from our common human being. This and give them the God God.

He says is neither personal nor impersonal but is the ground agreement form personality right so I asked any questions and students is with Dr. Tillich is the ground of personality. Personal or impersonal, and Tillich about had a stroke but the student was nailing him to the tree because the student was saying sir, the term impersonal incorporates everything outside the category of the term personal. There is no third alternative. So when you say God is neither personal nor impersonal you sent anything you measure to stand up and go believe you, but that's how far this discussion has degenerate, but again the Bible itself says the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but that which he has revealed belongs to us and to RC forever. Luther made the critical distinction between what he called the daily use absconded tutors and the Davis Revel audits the absconding God. We use that word absconded in English for the guy who runs off with the receipt from the bank. We say this, the embezzler at scones with the funds. That is, he steals what he has and he goes off into hiding right to abscond needs to go into hiding and when he speaks about God's being the Davis absconded to six of the piece, the hidden referring to that aspect of God's being were for whatever reason God has enough himself. He's not been pleaser chosen to unveil that he's not revealed all there is to know about himself to us at this point, there remains things that are hidden at the same time we also firmly believe in the Davis Revel office that there is a revealed aspect and it's because God has revealed himself to us verbally, meaningfully, and because he's made us in his image, which will explore more later. We can speak about him and we can speak meaningfully know what happened in the 19th century was the uniqueness of God, the way in which he is higher and greater than the created universe was all but obscured by a theology that became more and more pantheistic identifying God the sum total of nature. God is all that is and all that is is God and so so the uniqueness of God was being blurred and obscured. That is, his transcendence, the sense in which these other than us was being lost, so the theologians of the turn-of-the-century reacted against that and said we've got to recover the truth about God that God can never, ever, ever be acquainted with or identified with the universe. We must always distinguish between the creator and the creature.

Then I came up with this wonderful idea that God is not only other from the creation, but he's wholly other WHO LOL why, to tell her Allen's argon's on the ring. Whatever you language you want to. He's completely different from creation.

I once had a discussion with some theologians on this point who love that thing that God was wholly other and I said to this particular theologian in their company.

I said will Howdy knowing about God and he didn't hesitate. He said he reveals himself that's over now Phyllis on asking is what I so how does God reveal himself when he reveals himself in the Bible and history, and preeminently in the person of Christ is in you still get my point is what I said. How does he reveal himself in the Bible. How does he reveal himself in Christ all Israel himself in history is only me as it will cease wholly completely totally other. From what we are. If there is an utter dissimilarity between the creature and the creator, no point of analogy between them. The how could you have any meaningful communication.

How could God say or do anything that communicate anything intelligible to us about himself if he is totally different. I look to me for second is like a lightbulb anonymous. It will maybe we ought not to say that he's wholly other direct next time before you start to say it choke before you said because you've just cut the rug out from under biblical Christianity with that kid. I understand what you're trying to do to save and preserve his greatness, his transcendence, but this is where you get on one side of the horse and fall off the other side of the work and the correct one heresy you jump into another. So again the Westminster Devine's believe that God has revealed himself in terms that are understandable, intelligible, but using different ways. The way of analogy, the way of negation, the way of affirmation the way of eminent Tatian will see all of these as we go along but that these different ways in which God speaks, he speaks to creatures whom he stamped with his own image made in his own likeness doesn't make them gods, but he makes them capable of understanding something for about God and he is revealed who he is, in the pages of Scripture. These truths have been pondered and deliberated by great minds through the centuries there big as we are. Dr. RC Sproul say today they are understandable this week on Renewing Your Mind were listening to several of RC's lectures on the Westminster confession of faith confession treasured by believers around the world for centuries. In fact, Dr. school called it one of the most important confessions of faith ever penned. Recently we released a single volume edition of Dr. Sproles book truths we confess. He introduces readers to this beloved confession line by line making application to modern life with each one will send you this hardcover edition. When you contact us today with a donation of any amount. There are couple of ways you can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343.

You can also go online to Renewing Your your financial support of regular ministries propels this teaching around the world online and print in over the airwaves. We are proclaiming what truly matters for supporting the church and training others. Your gifts make all of that possible, so we thank you well I hope through this study, you're gaining a greater appreciation of who God is not stopping here. We hope you'll join us tomorrow and here's a preview of what will you God already is filled in his being with the fullness of all perfection. He can't possibly get any better and he will never change. Worse, RC will examine the self existence of God. Tomorrow on renewing your mom

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