Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable. …
The Almighty–we cannot find him;
he is great in power;
justice and abundant righteousness
he will not violate.
(~Elihu, Job 36:26; 37:23 ESV)
Job’s friends were right in some of the truths they spoke, but wrong in their application to Job.
Job was right in what he spoke, but his attitude was increasingly not humble.
Elihu gets things back on track with “the Almighty– we cannot find him…” (37:23) And this is the last thing said before God enters the conversation and repeatedly asks Job… “Where were you…? Do you know…? Are you able to…?”
Theologians speak of the incomprehensibility, or inscrutability, of God. This can be stated many ways: “The utmost that we know of God is nothing in respect of that which he is.” (Thomas Aquinas) “A finite creature can never fully comprehend that which is infinite.” (Thomas Manton) “God’s actual divine essence and his will, administration and works are absolutely beyond all human thought, human understanding or wisdom; in short, there are and ever will be incomprehensible, inscrutable, and altogether hidden to human reason.” (Martin Luther)
More simply, Elisabeth Elliot says, “God knows the way that you take; you don’t know his.” And the hymn-writer, Isaac Watts wrote,
“In vain our haughty reason swells,
For nothing’s found in thee
But boundless inconceivables
And vast eternity.”
The comfort in all this is that we do indeed know God truly, since he has revealed himself to us that we may know him. But we do not know him exhaustively, even though we do know him truly. But even in our knowledge of him we must speak in terms of what God is not rather than what he is. For example, we say that he is infinite, which only means that he is not-finite.
And we do not know him in his essence (that is, how he is in himself, how he knows himself). Some things are infinitely beyond us. This is due not only to our finitude (we are creatures), but also due to the darkness of our hearts (we still have indwelling sin). We are limited — severely limited — in what we can know about God, God’s ways, his purposes in life and history, the meaning of events, etc. What we don’t know is immensely more than what we do. And Job learned this the hard way.
How can this be a comfort to us in our sorrow, pain, and confusion? This truth causes us to stop our endless speculation, questioning, self-justification, and the fruitless analysis of the meaning of things we don’t understand. We accept our ignorance and limitation. We fall back on all that we do know about God… his goodness, his wisdom, his power, and above all, the Cross, where he gave his only Son for us.
William Cowper, another hymn-writer and a man who struggled with depression most of his life, captured this truth well in the hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”. Here are the last three stanzas:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
And so we can now rest in childlike trust upon our incomprehensible God.