Is God knowable?
One reader wrote, “Agnosticism is a doctrine that man cannot know about things beyond the realm of his experiences, in particular about God. It is a skeptical reservation of judgment in the absence of proof rather than an explicit rejection of any divine order. What do you have to say as to the afterlife of true agnostics? If you can give me your thoughts on this, without Bible speak, as people like myself can only understand 21st century American street language. I would appreciate. Please no parables. Thank you.”
I will do my best to answer your question, but any argument I bring will begin from a different starting point because we are both entering into this conversation with a different set of assumptions, the primary one being that I think God is incomprehensible yet also knowable, whereas a true Agnostic (e.g. strong agnosticism) claims he simply cannot be known. Since this is an unavoidable roadblock, I was thinking that this week I would present why I believe God is knowable and next week, upon that foundation, I would try my best to respond to your actual question.
The Bible is filled with paradoxes - things that are seemingly at odds with one another. The knowability of God is one of those concepts. According to the Bible, God is incomprehensible. The scriptures say that he is profound, his ways are not our ways, his knowledge is limitless, his judgments are unsearchable, etc. God himself is well beyond our capacities to understand in general, but his individual characteristics (his love, his power, his wisdom) are also beyond us.
Logically, it makes sense as to why God is incomprehensible. We have a finite mind and he is infinite. Try as we might, we cannot get outside of our box and God is entirely outside of our box. There will always be things that we cannot understand.
In addition to this, we have corrupted minds. If our minds were perfect, there would be no disagreements between people, but since our minds are filled with all sorts of confusion rarely will two people be on the same page about the same thing (and even if they were it doesn’t mean that they are correct!).
With this being said, I can understand the claim of Agnosticism that God cannot be truly known. If this is all we had, it might be the case (although one could argue that knowing that God is unknowable is, indeed, knowing something about God). The Bible tells us, however, that God has made himself knowable by revealing to mankind who he is.
God has made himself known in two primary ways. The first way is called General Revelation and the second way is called Special Revelation. General Revelation is defined as knowledge about God revealed in natural ways. One song in the Bible poetically says that God’s handiwork is written in the sky. In other words, when we look at a sunset we can infer that there is a higher power. Simply based upon the beauty of a sunset we can learn things about this power. We can know that the power is artistic, creative, structured (sunsets happen daily), and generous (nobody forced this higher power to give us such beauty). Based upon these hints, we should be spurred on to seek this higher power and to learn more about it.
This is where Special Revelation comes in. It is defined as the belief that knowledge of God and of spiritual matters can be discovered through supernatural means, such as miracles or the scriptures, which I believe are the primary way in which God has revealed himself to us.
All this is to say that I think that God is both incomprehensible and knowable. In my way of viewing the world, the problem isn’t an unknowable God, but a stubborn humanity. Paul, who was a terrorist turned evangelist wrote in Romans 1:19-20, “what can be known about God is plain to [humanity], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.”
Now, I know that Agnostics will disagree with what I just wrote, but before I answer your question next week, I wanted to set a baseline from which to start.