Lesson 44: Romans 11:33-36
A Most Wonderful God
by Bob Burridge ©2012
The most skilled Bible teachers, Theological Professors, and Pastors from the English speaking world, gathered at Westminster in the mid 1600’s. Their job was to examine Scripture to test every doctrine believed by the church. It came time to write their definition of God for the catechism they were preparing. Having already examined the facts of Scripture, it was time to find the right words to express such an awesome reality. So first they turned to seek direction from God in prayer. The assembly asked the youngest delegate to lead them. This would have been the Scottish Pastor George Gillespie of Edinburgh. It is said that in his prayer he addressed the Lord as, “God who is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” His words became the definition they had been seeking for Shorter Catechism Question 4.
The matter of God’s infinite nature is obviously more than just complex. It is absolutely beyond our full comprehension. However, God has made himself known in ways we can be made able to understand. He reveals himself in creation, in his acts of providence, in man’s moral conscience, and most clearly in his word.
The nature of God is the most fundamental truth in all the Universe. It is to be studied, and the results made known to others. Paul and the other writers of Scripture make no attempt to avoid the issue. Though humbled by the problem, they sought to express God’s nature in careful terms. They were directed by the Holy Spirit to say a great deal about the matter without error.
To know God’s nature better, is to know your Creator, Lord, and Redemption better. It is to appreciate more completely the hope of salvation and the way of sanctification. It is to help us develop right attitudes and behaviors toward the things we face in life every day.
This is a hard subject. Not that it is hard to know what God says, but it is admittedly hard to comprehend it all. Paul summarizes the glories of God in a most poetic but absolutely fact filled passage. Romans 11:33-36 is a response of praise at the end of the first eleven doctrinal chapters of the book.
First, the Apostle is overwhelmed by the depth of the wonders of God.
Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
Here Paul exclaims about the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Translators are somewhat divided about how Paul expressed himself here. Either he is amazed at the depth of the riches which come from God’s wisdom and knowledge, or he is amazed and the depths of God’s riches, wisdom and mercy. It is a technical issue not really differing much in substance. There is no question about what he meant. Either way we translate it, it means that the nature of God is amazingly deep!
I remember when I loved to dig holes. Specially when I was a pre-schooler. I had a good sized area behind the house, on the side of our porch that was my play area. I had a swing set there so the ground was pretty well trampled down to the bare dirt. We lived in an upper story flat. It belonged to my grandfather who loved to fix up the yard and keep a nice garden. He took it very seriously. Once he ordered a truck load of soil and had it dumped in the corner of my play area. It was out of the way, and out of sight, so he could leave it there until he was ready to use it. But when I saw it I was thrilled! “A dirt pile!” He had a grandfather’s heart toward me though, so he gave me permission to dig in it, and in time he abandoned the pile to me, and ordered more soil for his garden.
I’d spend hours out there, sometimes with my friends, just digging and hauling the dirt around in my little toy trucks. I remember my mom saying that someday I’d dig all the way to China. I took her literally and suspected that if I dug deep enough I’d break through into some exotic underground city of Chinese people. I never did. But a few times I got so deep that I could stand down in the hole waist deep. I always thought it was amazing to see guys along the roads digging so deep they were in over their heads. I never quite made it that far, but I kept trying. That’s the image I always picture when I think of things being deep. I kept shoveling out dirt, but somehow China was always a long way off.
When we talk about deep things about God it’s even more of a dig than reaching China [which now I understand is a little under 8,000 miles down, and through some pretty rough and hot digging.] This verse tells us that God’s wisdom and knowledge, and the richness of all his glories, are deep beyond our comprehension. Generally, wisdom is more the right use of information, and knowledge is the information itself. Both are unbounded in God. He knows everything about all things, all the time.
Since his wisdom knows no limits we say it is infinite. Infinity is a mathematical concept invented to help solve some otherwise impossible problems. If you had a line that started right in front of you and it extended out infinitely, you could cut a piece off the end of that line, and it would still extend into infinity. You could cut a mile off of it, and it would still reach out forever. You could cut off the whole distance through the earth to China, and it would still go on infinitely. In fact you could cut off billions of light-years, and it would still go on infinitely!
God does not only know all the facts we can name about the whole universe and its history. He knows about an infinite number of things which we don’t even know about. If we studied all our life times about the things God has made known, about the things we can see, or measure, still his knowledge is infinitely greater. All the wisdom of the ages is but a small piece on the near end of the line of God’s infinite wisdom. All the riches of God that we can name are but infinitesimal, compared with his vast treasures.
When I was growing up in that upstairs flat in Buffalo, we had a big family Bible laying out on the coffee table in the living room. One of the verses I found there always fascinated me. It was Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” (KJV)
There are many other verses that express the same thought. Psalm 139:17 says, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” This is a central fact of Scripture.
Then Romans 11:33 tells us that God’s judgments are unsearchable. His judgments include his rule over all things, his decrees and the purposes behind them. They include providence by which God directs all things to work together for his own glory. All these things are beyond what we can search out and discover.
Today, when we want to find out about something we use the internet. There are search engines which are web sites with programs that search through the millions of web pages to find what we want to know. They make encyclopedias and almanacs seem as archaic as horse drawn buggies. There is so much information available that if you aren’t precise about what you are asking for, you might end up with an unworkable pile of information.
For example, when I asked what is the diameter of the earth it listed 101,387,038 web sites all of which dealt with the subject in some way. Because of the way I asked, my answer in kilometers and miles was at the top of the list. But overwhelming results like that are nothing compared with all the judgments of God through which we might hope to search.
God’s ways are unfathomable. The verse here in Romans says “… His ways past finding out!” Literally the reference is to the impossibility of following a trail, or footprints. All that God is pleased to do, all the things that promote his glory, are impossible to trace out. The reasons behind them are vastly beyond our ability to follow along, or to grasp fully. Our finite minds can much less hold all the majestic truths about God than juice glass can hold all the oceans.
Next, the Apostle shows how far short
of these glories every creature falls.
Romans 11:34, “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?”
His question makes it clear that the answer is, “no one”. No creature knows the mind of God. Since God’s understanding is infinite, his mind will always be beyond us.
On the one hand we are finite creatures. The infinite is always beyond our comprehension. Our brains are of limited size and capacity. We can only process the information we know in limited ways.
On the other hand we are fallen beings. Sin has effected every human mind. Even if we are born again in Christ, we never overcome all moral corruption in this life. What we see in nature, and even what we read in the Bible, is imperfectly understood. Our outlook is hindered by self-interest and neglect of God’s holy glory.
Sin prejudices our minds against God’s awesome revelations. Its the ultimate foolishness to think we can improve upon what the Bible says by adding our own conjectures and theories.
This Book of Romans deals with such profound truths as: depravity, election, saving grace, reprobation — deep truths! These are ideas which go against our own fallen intuition.
False religion tries to dream up theories which attempt to explain away God’s Sovereignty and make the infinite seem more graspable to us mere creatures. Romanism, Fatalism, Pelegianism, Arminianism, Amyrauldianism, and so many others all begin by presuming to know enough to be able to reconcile hard truths with humanly imagined models. The Reformed approach is to let the facts revealed in the Bible stand on their own, and to resist elevating our theories to the level of doctrine.
The Canons of Dort wisely warn us (in Head 1, Article 14), “As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God … is clearly revealed in the Scriptures … so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God … provided it be done with reverence, in the spirit of discretion and piety, for the glory of Gods most holy Name, and for enlivening and comforting His people, without vainly attempting to investigate the secret ways of the Most High.”
It hurts needy souls and feeds heresies when we pervert the character of God to make him seem more controllable or limited by the imaginations of man.
No creature can be God’s counselor. How dangerous and foolish to think that God listens to us in deciding how his universe will unfold and bring him glory. God is independent. He needs no supervision or direction by his creatures.
The arrogant small mind of fallen man often thinks, “If only God would do this my way.” We pray as if we knew better what should happen, as if we would improve things if we could get God to change the course set by him eternally. We need to take the advice of James 4:15 … Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”
In ancient times, Job dared to challenge God’s treatment of him and his family. Then the Lord asked him if he understood the complexities of the universe. In Job 38:1-5 we read, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?’ ”
The Lord went on, until in chapter 42 Job was humbled and responded in verses 2-3 saying, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
David, in Psalm 131, understood that before God he was but a child in his understanding. There he wrote, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever.”
How vain for men to dare to speculate beyond what is revealed. The inability of our own limited minds to explain God to our own satisfaction is no test for truth. Who are we to judge what God has said by a standard invented by fallen creations?
The Apostle Paul himself dared not to speculate yet he had the unparalleled privilege of direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. No human could better have known the flow of thought and intent of the verses of Romans, yet here he humbles his own mind before these incomprehensible realities.
The combined intellectual ability of all men and angels could never come close to the infinite.
No creature can obligate God.
Romans 11:35, “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?”
No creature can do anything that obligates God to some return or reward. This has been Paul’s message in the first 11 chapters of Romans. Man could never merit election from his justly deserved damnation. He cannot earn his calling to sonship, his justification from sin, or secure his sanctification in holiness. The Creator owes nothing to his creatures. All blessing is from divine mercy alone. In Job 41:11 the Lord said, “Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine.”
Next, the Apostle directs us to the foundation for God’s absolute wonder.
Romans 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
God is the origin of all things, the means by which all things happen, and the goal toward which all things move. Charles Hodge writes, “it is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects.” Robert Haldane calls this “… the grand truth which lies at the foundation of all religion.” All things are from, through, and to God.
The Apostle ends this chapter by exclaiming the glory of God. Glory is his “weighty majesty”, the display of which is the ultimate purpose of all Creation.
Philosophers put man’s happiness as the greatest human good. In contrast, the Bible reveals to us that the greatest good is to proclaim God’s glory. This is why our own self-glory is so wicked and immoral. It takes from the Creator the honor toward which he designed all things. To steal God’s glory is the most horrible theft in all the universe.
The Shorter Catechism begins by teaching us that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
No enjoyment or happiness can ever be independent of first bringing glory to God. And God cannot be duly glorified, that it does not bring us the greatest happiness in being part of proclaiming that glory. All attempts at happiness that do not begin with directing glory to God produce only an imitation of happiness to the hurt and deception of the soul.
Paul tells us that God’s glory is forever. Even in eternity we will never be able to understand the infinite mind of God. Our wisdom will never equal his counsel. In heaven we will certainly learn more than we can possibly now imagine. However, we will be made able to grasp an immense piece of God’s infinitude. God’s wisdom and knowledge will always extend out beyond us forever. Therefore we will always be learning, always be growing, always improving. We will never exhaust the inexhaustible.
Paul concludes with an “Amen”. The Greek word Paul uses is amaen (αμην), which comes from the Hebrew word ahmaen (אמן). That root word means to affirm or to support something as true. Here Paul adds this word to affirm all he has said, to exclaim the wonders he beholds in God as he really is. It is the truth. When we say “amen” it means we solemnly declare that we are in humble agreement with what was said, that it is true as seen by the mind of God as revealed to us.
This high view of God is the groundwork upon which every belief and conviction must stand. This most awesome truth is also the most comforting of facts. As those redeemed by Grace, on the basis of the work of Christ, through a faith implanted into our hearts, we ought to honor God who is able to make us triumph regardless of our inabilities and in spite of all our fears.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)