Without the Holy Spirit’s help, we can’t understand God any more than a chicken can understand a human being. We need the Holy Spirit’s help to both illuminate our minds and calibrate our hearts to understand him, to relate to him, and to know him. That God is so big that he can’t fit in our heads is a part of the wonder and mystery of God. This is why doing theology properly must be done with a posture of worship. Theology is, as Anselm put it, faith seeking understanding. And, it is on the basis of that faith that the Holy Spirit helps us know God.
That God cannot be contained by the limitations of human logic is why there is mystery, or paradox at the heart of so many of the essential Christian teachings. At the heart of the cross itself is paradox. The death of Jesus was the greatest injustice known to history, and yet through it, God justified the world. Likewise, it is in the death of Jesus that a world that is dead to sin finds life (Matt 10:39; Eph 2:1–10). It was also through submission, obedience, and utter weakness that the matchless, saving power of God invaded the world.
Strength in weakness, life in death, and justice through injustice? How can this be? These ideas are contradictory. They don’t compute. They don’t compute because, as the prophet Isaiah says, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God’s ways (Is 55:8–9).
These are not the only examples of paradox at the heart of the Christian message. Jesus himself is a paradox. He is simultaneously fully man, and fully God. By definition this cannot be. Humanity, by definition, is not divine; and deity, by definition is not human.
Further still, the Trinity is a paradox. For the Trinity, one, plus one, plus one, equals one. “One,” by definition, is the absence of plurality, yet the Trinity is one God, three Persons.
Paradox underscores the point that because all truth is from an eternal God, there is always a point in which we reach the limits of human reason when doing Christian theology. To the point, Job 11:7 says, “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” Once again, God is simply too big to fit into our heads. Chesterton wrote, “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
Transcendence and Immanence
The paradoxical doctrines of transcendence and immanence are of particular interest in studying the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of transcendence, on the one hand, teaches that God is not restricted by time and space. Because God created time and space, He must be outside of both. The doctrine of the immanence of God, on the other hand, teaches that God is ever present in both time and space (Ps 139:7; Matt 28:20). The paradox is that God is both outside of time and space, yet simultaneously everywhere and always in time and space. C. S. Lewis summed it up by saying, “God is both further from us, and nearer to us, then any other being.” God is both far off and intimately close all at once.
Even though God is immanent, the Scriptures and the testimony of the church tell us that there are also special ways in which God makes his presence known in the world. There are times when the sacred and secular meet—when the curtain that separates heaven and earth is lifted so that we can get a glimpse of the invisible God. As Tozer puts it, “The presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He manifests only when and a we are aware of his presence.”
These unique ways in which God reveals are known as revelation. The idea behind revelation is that even though God is invisible, He can uncover, or unveil Himself so that we can see Him. Theologians normally distinguish between two kinds of revelation: (1) general revelation, and (2) special revelation.
General revelation is “[t]he knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity…” General revelation is both internal and external. Internally, God reveals his existence, character, and moral law in the human conscious. Most people, for example, intuitively know that torturing babies for fun is evil. This intuition, or basic knowledge of right and wrong, is a form of general revelation that is built into humanity. There is a natural calibration towards good and evil in all people precisely because God exists.
Externally, God reveals Himself through the creation. Psalm 19:1–2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Adding to this is Romans 1:19–20, which says,
They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
This means that by simply observing the creation, we should be able to draw the conclusion that there is an intelligent Creator behind it all.
Special revelation is different than general revelation. Special revelation is the precise, or specific way in which God reveals Himself so that He can be known personally and intimately. General revelation helps to us know about God and that He exists, while special revelation allows us to know God personally—to have a relationship with Him. Knowing about God (general revelation) doesn’t provide what’s necessary for reconciling our broken relationship with Him. It is only by knowing God personally that the power of the Holy Spirit can manifest in the human heart to regenerate the moral character of individuals and communities for the glory of God.
Jesus is the perfect example of special revelation as Jesus embodies, or incarnates God. Through Jesus we can not only know about God, but we can actually know God personally. In Jesus, God made His personal residence with us (John 1:14). In Jesus, heaven and earth came together in a way unlike ever before in history. Without Jesus, no one would see the Father.
(To be continued)
(Editor's Note: check out Dr. Ayars blog site HERE)