Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Beyond Words

How does one go about describing God, explaining God, or even fathoming his nature and works? Many reject the reality of God’s existence because the very concept is so foreign to our human experience and self-perception. But that’s the point. If he could be conceptualized on the human level, he wouldn’t be God! His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isa. 55:9). His depths are so vast (1 Cor. 2:10), mere words are inexpressible (2 Cor. 12:4) and amount to inarticulate groanings (Rom. 8:26).1 The vocabulary of all human languages combined does not have sufficient words through which the Most High can fully reveal himself. 

Due to the limitations and inadequacies of human speech and thought, the transcendent LORD and his direct activity cannot be verbalized literally. Divine revelation therefore has to employ analogy, metaphor, personification, anthropomorphism, hyperbole, and other figures of speech (e.g. Isa. 6:1-7; Ezek. 1:3-28; et al.). With valiant attempts to accommodate our limited capacity to understand, biblical authors, even inspired by God’s Spirit, seem to struggle to put into meaningful words that which is inexplicable and indescribable.

·      “O the immensity of abundance, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and incomprehensible his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).

·      “But to the One having power above all things to do exceedingly beyond what we ask or think, according to the power working in us” (Eph. 3:20).

·      “But we have this treasure in clay containers, that the surpassing excellence of the power might be of God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

·      “Thanks to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

·      “For the momentary lightness of our affliction, according to excessive excellence unto excessive excellence,2 is producing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

·      “For God so [emphatically] loved …” (John 3:16a). 

·      “But God being rich in mercy, through his abundant love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4).

·      “How will we escape, having neglected so great a salvation …” (Heb. 2:3a).

·      “Wherefore also he has the power to save to the uttermost …” (Heb. 7:25a).

·      Much more then having now been justified by his blood …. much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9a-10).

·      “I came that they may have life, and may have it exceedingly” (John 10:10b).

·      “But in all these things, we more than conquer through the One having loved us” (Rom. 8:37).


How do you explain? How do you describe? The ancient psalmist has observed, “Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, Who has set your majesty above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). In more recent times we lift our voices and sing, “You are beautiful beyond description, too marvelous for words; too wonderful for comprehension …. I stand in awe of You.”3

 

We basically have to resort to feeble expressions like boundless, infinite, unsearchable, unfathomable, inexplicable, indescribable, and incomprehensible, realizing that words alone are insufficient. God therefore has stooped down to our level and communicates not only with our words but beyond our words through the Word who took on human flesh (John 1:1, 14, 18; Heb. 1:1-2).

 

--Kevin L. Moore

 
Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. Emphasis added with italics; added words in [square brackets].
     2 The inexpressible magnitude of what lies beyond this temporal life is so hard to put into words that the Greek term ὑπερβολή [huperbolé], from which the English word “hyperbole” is derived, is employed twice as a feeble attempt to make the point: ASV, “more and more exceedingly”; CSB, “absolutely incomparable”; ISV/NASB, “far beyond any/all comparison”; NIV, “far outweighs them all”; N/KJV, “far more exceeding.”
     3 “Beautiful Beyond Description,” by Mark Altrogge (1987).
 
*Appearing in modified form in The Estes Echo (6 Nov. 2020).

Image credit: http://openuniverse.asi.it/

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