Let us never forget the breathtaking privilege and wonder of knowing God. Today, Sinclair Ferguson identifies the first lesson we must learn when thinking about our Creator: humility.
This week on Things Unseen, I’d like to think with you about the ultimate unseen. But I feel just a little odd telling you what I want to talk about, because I want to talk about God. We do it casually, don’t we? And it’s not only unbelievers, but also sometimes it’s Christians who empty God’s name of content. We forget that it’s God we’re talking about, not the next-door neighbor. The problem with our assumed familiarity and easy talk is it actually diminishes and almost destroys our sense of the privilege of knowing Him because that’s created not by our sense of familiarity, but by His identity—by who He is that we have come to know.
I sometimes think of it this way: I see a line of ants scurrying across a paving stone—amazing creatures, as the book of Proverbs remind us. But as my shadow falls on them, I’m sure it doesn’t even cross their minds to ask: “Why does Sinclair Ferguson keep blocking out the sun? We need to tell him we are fed up with the way he towers over our lives.” That an ant would talk about me is ridiculous. No comparison between an ant and me. No comparison between his brain and mine, its instinct and my understanding. Maybe if I were an entomologist who was also a qualified neuroscientist, I could, perhaps, compare ant brains with human brains and detail the vast gulf between us and ants.
But the gulf between God the Creator and ourselves as creatures is immeasurably greater. We’re talking about the God who spoke the cosmos into being in all its vastness and diversity, the One whose imagination is of such genius that He created the seemingly endless variety there is in the world. Usually, when we talk about that, we’re thinking only about the world that we can actually see. We take it for granted that we know what we mean when we say “God.” As long as we do that, we never really feel the sheer wonder of what it actually means to be able to say, “I have come to know God.”
Remember how God takes Job outside in Job 38 and 39 and invites him to look at some of the wonders of creation and asks him: “Where were you when I did this? What did you contribute? What do you understand, really? I invented and then created all this and did it just with a few words?” And the answer to those questions is, Job didn’t actually understand very much of it. And we don’t understand much more.
I have a wonderful Christian friend who has devoted his academic life to the study of the human brain. He very kindly gave me a copy of the textbook that he’d written on the brain. I hardly understood any of it. But in his introduction, he says a very striking thing. He says he hopes that this book will help students and practitioners to understand something more of the little we really understand about the human brain. Staggering, isn’t it? The brainiest people we know don’t know all that much about the brain that makes them so brainy. The human brain is only one element in the sheer vastness of the cosmos and its variety that God both imagined and then brought into being with a few words.
So, what’s lesson number one when we think about God? Augustine taught it and Calvin echoed it. They said that just as when the famous Greek orator, Demosthenes, was asked the secret of oratory and responded, “Action, action, action,” so if these masters of the Christian faith were similarly asked the secret of living the Christian life, they would say, “Humility, humility, humility.”
Herman Bavinck, the great Dutch theologian, put it well, I think, when he wrote: “It is absolutely necessary that the person who cultivates any branch of knowledge first of all and most of all study to be modest and humble. This applies especially to the theologian. He should not think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”
And if you’re familiar with the title of what I think is one of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s best books, you’ll be thinking, “Yes, that applies to me too,” because everyone’s a theologian.
Well, more about this tomorrow, and I hope you’ll join me.