The Problem with a Comprehensible God

by Matthew W. Bassford

In my time as a preacher, I’ve had my share of conversations with people who thought they had a moral or philosophical justification for their agnosticism/atheism. They found something in the Bible they didn’t like. Maybe it was God commanding the slaughter of the Canaanite children. Maybe it was God condemning the practice of homosexuality as sinful. Maybe it was God’s foreknowledge of human activity. Regardless, there was something that displeased them, they couldn’t see how it was consistent with their understanding of God, so they concluded that God didn’t exist.

I believe there are answers to all of these objections (and the others like them), but there’s an even more fundamental problem with that line of reasoning. All of these scenarios begin with the doubter constructing their version of God (possibly in good faith; possibly as a straw man), comparing their construct to the Biblical record, and concluding that the God of the Bible doesn’t measure up. Their God wouldn’t do that!

To which I say, “So what?” The God of the Bible doesn’t make sense to them. Why should they have any expectation that a being of vastly greater understanding (which is how the Bible presents God) ought to make sense to them?

I am quite confident that five years ago, when I told my children that they couldn’t eat Halloween candy for three meals a day, it didn’t make sense to them either. “Candy tastes good, and it is there to be eaten. It tastes better than stuffed peppers, so we should have it for dinner instead of stuffed peppers. What am I missing?”

Children don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t understand what they don’t understand. And yet, my five-year-olds were much closer in intellect to me than I or any atheist doubter is to God. If the child is unable to understand the parent, how much more will the creation struggle to understand the Creator!

Consequently, we should expect there to be many times when God does or tells us to do things that don’t make sense to us. A God who is omniscient ought to be incomprehensible to human beings who aren’t. Just like the toddler isn’t going to back Mom into a logical corner so that she offers up candy on demand, we aren’t going to be able to use the times that God doesn’t make sense to us to prove that He doesn’t exist. The problem isn’t Him. It’s us.

Indeed, it is the comprehensible God who looks much more like a figment of the human imagination. The gods of the Greeks were comprehensible. They got in ridiculous fusses with each other as people do. They committed adultery as people do.

Despite their greater power, these gods fit into a human frame. They were idols, crafted to resemble people not only in outward features but in personality and scope. They made sense because they were human in origin.

The God of the Bible does not make sense like that because He did not come from us. He is not human or human-like. He doesn’t even exist in the same state of reality. He is utterly alien to us, and it is a tribute to His skill in communication that we are able to understand Him even as well as we do.

The alien-ness and incomprehensibility of God, rather than being a sign of His non-existence, really is proof to the contrary. If we don’t understand Him, that is as it should be. We can expect to have unanswered questions for as long as we live and maybe thereafter. Conversely, if we think we do understand Him, we’re missing something.

Our job is not to make God make sense. It is to seek to please Him. As Moses wisely observed in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may obey all the words of this law.

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