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March 06, 2020 Q & A

Is Man’s Sinfulness Incomprehensible?

Question

When speaking about God, very often theologians start with God’s “incomprehensibility.” As Reformed Christians we are well acquainted with the concept of man’s “total depravity.” My question is this: Am I correct in submitting that man’s sinfulness is “incomprehensible”? It seems to me that it is an impossibility, this side of glory, to even come close to grasping the depths of the implications of the corruption in our hearts.

Answer

What an interesting question! Thank you. In general, I think we both are looking at the same ideas. But I think we want to separate thinking about the incomprehensibility of our sin and the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God.

The latter means that we cannot know God as he knows himself because of the Creator-creature distinction. God, an infinite being—uncreated, and separate (holy) from his creation—lets us know the “edges of his ways,” so to speak. We think of Moses, secure in the cleft of the rock in Exodus 33–34, mercifully protected from seeing the full glory of God. In Jesus Christ we have the fullness of the Godhead revealed in bodily form, but Revelation 1 shows us that Christ is now, as the risen and ascended Lord, more glorious than we could grasp here on earth. So we cannot comprehend God as he comprehends himself.

In regard to our own understanding of our sin in relation to the perfectly holy and sinless Creator, again the Creator-creature distinction is at work. David in Psalm 139 asks God to search him and know him and see if there is any wicked way in him, because David, as a fallen creature cannot—because he cannot grasp the utter holiness of God—see his sin for what it truly is, an offense against the very being of God (compare Psalm 32). Take the sins of gossip or slander, sometimes called “respectable sin,” sins “everybody” does. Yet in the ninth commandment God tells us to be truth-speakers because he himself is, and these “minor” sins are just as offensive to his holy character as “greater” sins. So the psalmist asks God to cleanse him from “hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12)—hidden because as both redeemed and still-sinning creatures we cannot see those faults for what they truly are. This makes the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ so precious to us: we are ignorant of just how sinful we are and yet must be cleansed from those sins that we do not even recognize. Our “scarlet” sins, including the “respectable sins” are washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Praise God!

So we are radically fallen, corrupted by sin in our innermost being, and our hearts are “desperately wicked”; who (humanly speaking) can understand it? (Jer. 17:9–10). We are left in awe of a holy God who nonetheless cleanses us from all unrighteousness with the precious blood of his only begotten Son. Thinking about these things should cause us to praise and thank him for all eternity!

 

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