What We Cannot Necessarily Know

There is surely a peace to be found in knowing what we cannot know. The Bible is the final and complete Word of God, but it does not tell us everything that we often want to know about living as a Christian. That is how God has planned that our lives should be. As God told Moses: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Deut.29:29). The New Testament also sets a limit on what we can know here on earth: ‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been
fully known’ (1 Cor.13:12).

There are some things that we can know but not fully understand. We can know that God is triune (Matt.28:19), but we cannot know how God can be three Persons in the one Godhead. As Herman Bavinck says: ‘He can be apprehended, he cannot be comprehended.’ We can know that the infinite and the finite are joined together in Jesus Christ: ‘For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Col.2:9). Yet we cannot explain this. Stuart Townend and Keith Getty have bidden us sing In Christ Alone, to Him whom they describe as ‘fullness of God in helpless babe’. We sing it – rightly so – but we cannot comprehend it. If He is helpless, how can He be God, and if He is God, how can He be helpless? If He is God, how can He fall asleep on the boat, and if He is man, how can He control nature? (see Mark 4:35-41) Yet Christ is the God-man, true God and true man in the one Person.

God is sovereign over evil, yet He remains pure in every respect. He says: ‘I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things’ (Isa.45:7). It can be said: ‘Is it not from the mouth of the Most Hight that good and bad come?’ (Lam.3:38) He kills and He makes alive (Deut.32:39; 1 Sam.2:6), and not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father (Matt.10:29). Yet He is not the author of evil for He is of purer eyes than to behold evil and He cannot look at wrong (Hab.1:13). He is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5).

In a somewhat different category is the fact that we cannot know what tomorrow may bring (James 4:13-16). We can only plan to do things with the caveat, ‘If the Lord wills’. As William Freeman Lloyd so beautifully put it:

My times are in Thy hand:

My God, I wish them there;

My life, my friends, my soul I leave

Entirely to Thy care.

We fail in so many areas in prayer that it can be difficult to know where to begin. We are often too timid and unbelieving – we pray but then carry on as if it were a pointless exercise, rather like those early Christians who prayed for Peter in prison, and then could not believe it when he was miraculously released (Acts 12:12-17). In reaction, some have viewed prayer as a kind of blank cheque that God must sign. Gloria Copeland, for example, asserts that ‘”If it be Thy will” is unbelief when praying for healing.’ Yet we are told that ‘if we ask anything according to His will He hears us’ (1 John 5:14). Paul was at liberty to pray for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, but the Lord was at liberty to refuse his prayer, for Paul’s own sake (2 Cor.12:7-10).

We cannot know how our lives will unfold, nor how anyone else’s will. Jesus virtually told Peter to mind his own business and get on with his own discipleship when he asked about what would happen to John (John 21:20-23). When David Livingstone left for Africa in 1840, he was surely carrying out God’s missionary call on his life, but all the time he had been looking to go to China. He never got there! Even on issues where God has revealed Himself, a devout caution is appropriate. The risen Jesus told His disciples: ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority’ (Acts 1:7). Daniel, the prophet, did not understand everything that was revealed to him (Dan.12:8).

Faith consists of knowledge, which includes a knowledge of what we cannot fully comprehend or even know with any degree of assurance. Well may the Christian join with Richard Baxter in song:

My knowledge of that life is small,

The eye of faith is dim:

But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,

And I shall be with Him.

With warmest regards in Christ,

Peter Barnes