Is God Completely Beyond our Comprehension?

Can we talk and think about God? Or is God completely beyond our comprehension? It may surprise you to learn that prominent philosophers and theologians have argued God is completely beyond the human intellect. That God cannot be so much as talked about or even understood. What reason is there to think such a thing? Why should we believe that God can’t even be spoken of?

Immanuel Kant famously argued in Critique of Pure Reason that there are two worlds. There is the world of appearances, and then there is the world of reality. We humans have access only to the world of appearances. And God, if He exists, obviously exists in the world of reality. But if humans can only access the world of appearances, then they surely cannot access God [1]. Gordon Kaufman, the late Christian theologian, took a similar line of thinking. He argued that if God is the creator and the ultimate reality, then He is beyond our experience and so our human concepts cannot apply to Him.

Alvin Plantinga, in his recent book Knowledge and Christian Belief, argued this kind of thinking has two very serious problems.

1. Absurdity

First, one thinks of the Bible as telling us about God. The Bible tells us what God is like and what He has done. But if our human concepts cannot apply to God, then nobody – not even Holy Scripture – could actually tell us about God. On this view we can’t know that God hates sin, that Jesus is the son of God, or that God has created the universe. We could only know these things if our concepts applied to God.

“If our human concepts cannot apply to God, then nobody – not even Holy Scripture – could actually tell us about God.”

Consider a beautifully preached sermon of sin and redemption through the life and death of Jesus. On this view, sermons like this would be completely misguided. The preacher wouldn’t actually be talking about God, she would be mistaken in thinking such a thing. Listeners, even less fortunately, would be thinking they were being talked to about Christian truths, when in reality nothing like that was being done.

2. Self-refuting

The second – and more serious – problem Plantinga cites is that this view is self-refuting. It refutes itself. In other words, if it’s true, then it’s false. If our concepts do not apply to God then we can’t make statements about God. However, notice that the statement “our concepts do not apply to God” is obviously a statement about God. If we can’t think about God, then we can’t say about Him that our human concepts don’t apply to Him. So it turns out this view refutes itself.

Given that this view leads to absurdity and is self-refuting, the best thing to do is to reject it. No doubt there is reason to be cautious when it comes to God. We humans are limited in knowledge, so of course we will never know everything there is to know about God. But that doesn’t mean God is completely beyond our comprehension. We can still know extremely important things about Him.

[1] Kant was notoriously difficult to interpret and so the following critique is aimed at this interpretation.

About the Featured Image

Taken in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. I remember walking into this place mesmerized by every tiny detail. From the wood sculptures to the oil paintings to the marble inlays. Everything. And then I looked up. Same thing. The image you see is an angled shot of the ceiling, flipped upside down. I want to go back.


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