Our Built-In Finite Limitations of Understanding an Unlimited God

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Our Built-In Finite Limitations of Understanding an Unlimited God

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Someone said a good way to think about infinity is to think of the largest number in the world and add one to it. Keep adding a digit to it forever; that is infinity. It’s helpful, but when you say God is infinite, our best illustrations stop within the limitations of our finite comprehension. But we must proceed in the task of trying to understand our limitless, infinite God.

Theology Lessons from Brandi Huerta

  1. Worship: The Best and Second Best Reasons to Study Theology
  2. Incomprehensibility: The Remarkable Way Finite People Understand Infinite God
  3. Infinity: Our Built-In Finite Limitations of Understanding an Unlimited God
  4. Aseity: God Does Not Need Us; His Love Is Perfect and Unmanipulated
  5. Impassibility: It Is Not Remotely Possible to Break God’s Heart
  6. Simplicity: God’s Simplicity Is a Majestic Matter to Comprehend
  7. Eternity: Eternal God Is the Beginning and the End at Once
  8. Trinity: When Christians Manipulate the Trinity to Push Forth Their Agenda

He Is Bigger Than Big

It has been well said that the doctrine of God is like a sweater: if you unravel any one part of it, the whole thing comes undone. This illustration makes sense when you consider that God doesn’t have parts, which we will consider more deeply in a later lesson. Everything in God is identical with Him, so all of His attributes, which we creatures must consider separately because we can’t comprehend them in unity, are identical with one another as well, properly speaking.

If you deny one of them, essentially, you deny them all, and the sweater unravels. For this lesson, I want us to consider God’s infinity, which is an attribute that modifies or describes all of God’s other attributes. God is infinitely good, infinitely holy, infinitely wise, and so forth. It’s common for Christians to speak of God as being “bigger than” any number of things, and in one sense, it isn’t wrong to do so if you understand that it’s anthropomorphic to speak of God with size language.

But God’s infinity prohibits us from putting any limits on Him whatsoever, which any size language, and any time language, for that matter, do. If you describe God to a small child, you will probably have to use the word “bigger” at some point. A problem will arise, though, if you don’t understand that, strictly speaking, it isn’t true to describe God in this way. It would be ideal if you would communicate some sense, as best you can, of God’s infinity to the child as well.

He Is Dimensionless

Much of the apophatic (describing God by saying what He is not) language in the Bible means to communicate precisely this idea. When we describe God as unfathomable, think about a plumbline attached to a string, which is used to measure fathoms—the water depth. The word “unfathomable” is communicating that you can’t measure God. He’s infinite; the very word means that God is impossible to measure. He has no dimensions. “Unsearchable” is similar in its meaning, as is the word immense.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27).

God is utterly without limits, and any measurement, including time, is a limit. Eternity is the word we use as we speak of God regarding His being outside of time. I remember the lady who taught me my first theology lessons when I was a kid; one day, she took her wedding ring off to show me it had no beginning and end. God, she said, was like that. But think about this: in her view, God still has “points from which” He has come and “points to which” He is going.

In that way, He’s like us, only bigger. There are things accessible to Him only through memory and things He looks forward to, just like we do. Time, even if His is somewhat different from ours, is an environment in which God exists, from her (and most people’s) viewpoint. If that were the case, time, not God, would be most absolute because it would be something to which God Himself was subject. How different my teacher’s concept was from the God, who simply is the beginning and the end.

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He Is Changeless

When you say that God is infinite, think of the “is” as an equative term, meaning that you’re saying that God equals infinity instead of using the word infinite as an adjective, being part of what God is. God experiences all creaturely eternity—which is only analogical to divine eternity—in one simple, perfect now. Take a moment and contemplate the truth that God is infinite love and what good news this is for His children. He cannot possibly love you any more than He does.

He doesn’t get sad when you disobey or suffer because He is infinite love. He is also infinite blessedness. Nothing about you affects Him whatsoever because He’s infinite, and it’s impossible for Him to be otherwise. He is infinite good, too. If He could change, He would have to change either for the better or the worse, meaning that either before, after, or both, He wasn’t infinite in whatever perfection changed.

This perspective is critical when we talk about how we understand when Scripture uses emotional language with respect to God. We want to avoid thinking of a god who actually can change, especially one who is dependent upon us in some way for his new state of being (as in our supposed ability to “make” Him sad or happy). Our God is infinite, and only He is worthy of worship.

He Is Limitless

If He could become sad or less happy, He isn’t infinite in happiness. His happiness must be measured or quantified for us to say that it can increase or be diminished. God’s power is also infinite. There is nothing that anyone can say to Him, such as, “This far and no farther.” It is impossible to define and impossible to limit. God, in return, limits and defines literally everything that is not Himself.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:4–11).

Consider when it says in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Time (the beginning), space (the heavens), and matter (the earth) are all creations and are an environment for creatures. God, Himself, is not contained by them; He is wholly other than all creation.

  • What would be the implications of a god who was merely the biggest thing in the universe?
  • How could He have created something that contains Him—that He is limited by?

Nobody like Him

Let’s go back for a moment and talk about whether or not we should use dimensional language to talk to kids about God. Sometimes, I get to teach first through third-grade Sunday school. One September, as we returned to Genesis and the very familiar creation account, I marveled at how sharp the kids were that particular day. If you’ve ever taught kids, you know that if one of them saw a dead cat on the way to church, that might be all they’re willing to talk about that day! They were chirpy and engaged.

Then a girl said, “Before God did all that (again, talking about the creation), He was just hanging around in heaven by Himself.”

I thought, then replied, “Before He created, there was no heaven. Look at Genesis 1:1 again. Heaven was created; it didn’t always exist.”

“Then . . . where . . . was . . . He?”

“Everything that is not God was created, so there wasn’t anywhere for Him to be. Before creation, there was only God.”

Her eyes narrowed. “So, was He just swimming around?”

“He doesn’t have a body because He’s spirit, so He doesn’t swim. And there was no ‘around’ to swim in.”

Her eyes lit up, and she, along with everyone else in the room, started asking rapid-fire questions about how this could be. We talked about how we as creatures can’t understand anything that exists apart from our environment of time, space, and matter because it’s all we have experienced. They learned the words “transcendence” and “aseity,” excitedly trying to make sense of the incomprehensible God.

“Mrs. Huerta, I feel like my head’s gonna explode!” my little friend said delightedly.

“Good! That means you’re starting to get it.” I thought my heart might explode along with her head.

Then came what will remain until heaven one of my most beloved memories.

“God is HUGE!”

“He’s amazing! There’s nobody else like Him!”

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Lost In Praise

All around the room, each student was lost in spontaneous praise of YHWH, the God who depends on nothing and no one—who just is. When they reached the limit of their ability to comprehend Him, they forgot themselves and worshiped the infinite God of the universe.

  • What if I had left them to their cute but inaccurate views of God?
  • Would it serve them to have a God they could get their minds around?
  • What I want for them is for you: I want you to know the incomprehensible God and worship Him in spirit and truth.

Call to Action

  1. Read Ephesians 1 slowly and prayerfully. From the text, identify three references to God’s infinity and write a brief description of each.
  2. If God’s power is immeasurably great (and incomprehensible as a result), as Paul says in verse 19, why would he pray for you to know it? Isn’t that a contradiction?
  3. What is one way your view of God changed due to this lesson? How have you limited God by your understanding of Him? Will you find someone to share your new and deeper understanding of God with? It would be good to choose someone from a previous lesson if they responded favorably.
  4. Look up chapter 2 in the London Baptist Confession of Faith and list all of the words that refer to some aspect of God’s infinity. Write a prayer of adoration to Him using several of these words.

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