How can man know God? Can man know God, God the great I AM WHO I AM, eternal, immutable, incomparable, the One Who is Himself and Himself alone, defined only by His own being and by nothing else, to Whom nothing is like, infinite and exalted in majesty and glory? How can a finite creature know such a One? Even intellectual knowledge will be of little good, for He is unlike any of the things we know, so that all we can intellectually know of Him can be that He is not like His creation, and that He exists, but who He is or where, that is, how, to look for Him we can not know, only that nothing else is Him – who is not Him – and where or how we can not look for Him. [As for experiencing Him, seeing Him, how shall it be? Even were we sinless, is it even possible that our finite minds can even behold a little of the Glory of His Majesty, can even understand a little of what YHWH means? If it is, how shall we bear it? He is great, glorious, awesome, terrible in majesty, and will not looking upon Him destroy us? Yet, we are sinners, and thus His holiness is even more deadly to us.]
God Himself is the measure of Himself. When Moses asked for His name, He said, “My name is YHWH, I AM WHO I AM,” which is as much as to say, “My existence depends upon My own existence; My personality depends upon My own personality. My existence is My existence, My personality is My personality. If you would say what I am like, you must say that I am like Myself. If you would know Me, nay, even if you would know of Me, know what I am like, there is nowhere you can go but Myself for that knowledge. I AM WHO I AM. I do not change, there is nothing to make Me change, for no one and nothing except Myself has any bearing upon who I am. All other beings, all other existences, if you wish to call them that besides My existence, depend upon Me, but I AM WHO I AM, I! There is nothing besides Me, there is nothing like Me, I AM WHO. I. AM.” What hope, then, is there for human kind to know God? He is YHWH, He is Himself and there is nothing besides Him. How shall we even know what He is like if we do not know Him, for we can only say that He is like Himself? To say that He is like another is not just blasphemy; it is sheer and ridiculous nonsense. From this, one would conclude that it is impossible for human beings to know God, or even know much about God. We can know that He is eternal, immutable, and unapproachable, and we can know that He created the world, knows everything, and is in control of everything. Since He created us knowing that somethings are right (like, loving one’s parents) and other things are wrong (like, killing your brother because he teased you one too many times), we can know that God is, in some sense, good. However, what can we know of what He is like, of who He is? Even our knowledge, so far, of God as eternal and unchanging is negative knowledge; we do not know what eternal and unchanging means, we only know that it is unlike everything in our experience. We know that it must mean something positive, but we do not actually know what is that something positive.
We need not conclude that we can never know God just yet. This very same passage where God tells Moses that His Name is YHWH, this YHWH reveals Himself. That is why Moses even asks Him, and what He does when He answers. Notice that word: reveal. The YHWH, enthroned in unapproachable and incomparable glory outside the world, the great I Himself, veils something of His eternal glory, to enter into changeful time and space in order that He might reveal Himself to Moses. The I AM WHO I AM is the Living YHWH. In numerous places is YHWH referred to as the Living God. Of course, He must, of necessity, be living as well as I AM WHO I AM to create and sustain creation, for unless He were I AM WHO I AM, He would not Be. He would not Be the Ultimate Existence, would not Be the Foundation upon which the existence of other, lesser, ephemeral things can rest and from which they can take their rise. However, were He not the Living God, He would not act to bring about their existence and sustain them, would not be their Rabb (Lord, Creator, the One in whom all things subsist); He could not, for if One is the kind of being that would never, that is essentially the same thing as being the kind of being that cannot. At the same time, by its very nature creation that depends upon YHWH cannot be, in any way like or comparable to its foundation, the One on whom it depends Who Himself depends on none but Himself, for its existence must of its very nature be entirely different from His, being other-derived instead of self-derived, even self-necessitating, and yet, since it takes its existence from Him, and get it’s existence from Him, gets all it has from Him, all that it is must belong to Him, must in some sense resemble Him. How can something which is entirely because of YHWH and gets all that it is from YHWH be entirely alien to Him – it has nothing but what He gave it, and since He is Himself and no other, what can He give it but Himself?
Here, you may notice we have something that looks very like a contradiction, though we know it cannot be, since it is obvious that both sides are true. On the one hand, God is YHWH, the I AM WHO I AM, eternal and unchanging, timeless, completely, wholly, simply Himself, by nature of so being entirely, wholly, simply, only Himself also utterly unlike all creation. His existence and person depends upon and is effected by nothing other than His existence and person. Himself is the foundation of His own existence, His Person is why He is as well as who He is, and is why anything else can exist. There is no saying who He is or what He is like, except to say that He is Himself and is like Himself. On the other hand, God is the Living God, who chooses and acts and bring into existence, who says, “Light, be!” and light becomes, who continually sustains, guides, and cares for what He has made. Now, on the surface of things, it might appear that to be I AM WHO I AM and to be the Living God, once we have thought a little bit about what I AM WHO I AM means, are contradictory. To act to bring into existence, to care for and guide the created, to respond to the actions and prayers of the created, might be a kind of changing. How can He create or mold creation, how can He speak, without in some sense changing? (We will not touch any further on creation, since our subject is God and how He may be known, and we have not the space for everything.)
This apparent contradiction is even more apparent in the account of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush. He enters into time; His presence is a bush that burns and yet is not burned. We will get back to that symbol in a few moments. God calls to Moses, and Moses replies, “Here I am.” Then God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he is on holy ground and tells him that He is the God of his fathers. He continues to tells Moses what is happening and to give him instructions. He responds to Moses’ questions and worries. God’s relationship to us, in some sense, though not all would agree on in what sense, depends upon who we are, or upon our relationship to Him. He is living; He relates to His creation, He comes into time and space to relate to His creation, yet He is the timeless, eternal, immutable I AM WHO I AM, effected only by His own self. We can see this expressed in the burning bush. It is on fire, and yet it is not consumed. It burns, and yet is not burned. To be burning is to be living – moving, acting, changing, leaping into fire and one day dying, having changed it’s fuel. To be a living bush is, in some sense, the same thing. Yet, this living bush burns and remains alive. This fire flames and burns, and yet it does not die out. Both it and it’s fuel remain, not changed or moved into something else, though their very essences are, respectively, motion or change and life or motion. Is this not something of a picture of the Living God who is I AM WHO I AM? The Mover who is not moved? The One who made time and enters into it, and yet cannot be effected by time?
Someday, we will get back to the apparent contradictions outlined in the above paragraphs, to their implications, and what they tell us about reality. Suffice it to say, they are proof that the Almighty Eternal Ever-living Immutable God and Lord of all cannot be fully understood by our minds and, though simply and fully Himself, entirely One, that is, Himself, reveals Himself to us in ways that seem almost contradictory, that, of necessity, imply and contain an attribute, which may be seemingly contradictory to our minds. How can Someone never change, never be moved, and yet act in time, bringing creation into being and guiding and sustaining it, let alone change His relationship to His creatures? Yet, from what is, we know both these things, and even that they contain each other.
So, how shall we know God? How shall we know who He is? We have established that what He is our minds cannot comprehend; that even if we attempt to describe Him we can hope scarcely more than to have an understanding of what and who He is not. How, from such knowledge, shall we even know where to find Him or how to search for Him? Even in considering the truth that YHWH is the Living God and the Living God is YHWH we see how little we know what we are saying when we speak of the Eternal One. Now, we may be content to only know a very little of the Divine Majesty, and to only know of Him. We may be content to dwell at a distance from Him, believing that the Unknowable Majesty and Creator is. If He does not choose to reveal Himself, if He is not the kind of God who will condescend, or stoop, to personally reveal Himself to His creation, then this must be all there is for us.
However, we already know the immutable YHWH, the unmoving I AM WHO I AM, enthroned in glory in the changeless halls of eternity, is also the Living God, who acts and moves to bring about the purposes He has planned. If it is in accordance with His Person to stoop to reveal Himself to men, the I AM WHO I AM can do so, for He is the Living God. We cannot know Him, we can hardly know of Him, from hearing the messages others have received, for He is I AM WHO I AM, incomparable and alone, and their words will have no positive substance to us unless we already know Him of Whom they are speaking. There are no, or very few, reference points that will provide us with an idea of who God is, unless we first know Him, for He is like unto none but Himself. If we already know Him, then their words may well have positive meaning to us, and may prompt us to see and know Him and who He is more fully, by drawing our attention to one aspect – if we wish to call it that, for there is no dividing Him into parts – of Who He is, in light of another aspect – again, if it is acceptable to refer to God in this way, but we must, for we cannot, in one instantaneous flash like eternity, know what I AM WHO I AM, or any of God’s other names, means. However, each one of us must know YHWH for him or her self, or else not know Him at all.
How, though, shall the I AM WHO I AM, enthroned in majesty, immutable and above all change, be revealed to finite men without destroying their sanity or beings? As none of us can fully know God quite as He knows Himself, I may never know this, but the Living God humbles Himself to make Himself known to us; in no other way can the Eternal Majesty be known to men. In this, He exalts His Son, Jesus the Messiah, and His Son exalts His Father, in showing forth His glory and wisdom by completing Their plan and revealing the YHWH to men. Because Jesus the Messiah is YHWH, He can be the fullness of YHWH. Because He is man, He can dwell among men. So, Jesus the Messiah is the fullness of YHWH dwelling with man – He is Emmanuel. Because YHWH is the Living God, He is able to become man, while remaining the Eternal, Unchanging, Immutable and Incomparable. God’s nature is I AM WHO I AM. However, He is also El-Shaddai the Living God, the Almighty and All- Sufficient God who acts, and as the God Who Acts, who acted in the beginning to bring about creation and still acts to sustain and guide it, He can act to become a man, to take on a nature that was not His own. His intrinsic nature and character can never change – He is I AM WHO I AM. However, because He is living and active, as regards time He can change – He is the author of time and change – in order to reveal and bring out His eternal character and glory. By the Eternal Son’s taking upon Himself a human nature and limitations, God is the more Almighty. He can not do or be anything opposed to His goodness – He is pure, perfect, sinless – however, without losing His eternal perfections – He becomes a man, taking on our limitations, so that He can suffer and die and bear man’s sins – remember, He is Almighty – as He could not do in His divine nature. Rising from the dead, the Eternal Son before all worlds, Jesus, is perfect God and perfect Man, the sum of all perfection, whether of the Creator or of the created. For it is fitting that God should be all in all, and that there should be no perfection or goodness which is not found in Him, and so it is that, in the Son, the created is taken up into the Creator. So it is, that we can know the Eternal Incomparable One, for He has come to us in His Son, who is the sum of all perfection – Emmanuel.
A few relevant Bible passages
Copyright 2017 Raina Nightingale