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According to many christian practitioners one of their most famous answers to a lot of questions in that "God is above our understanding" or another similar answer.

If this is true then how can we comprehend what god wants from us? The bible is written by many people who aren't God, so how can we base anything off of mere mortals who cannot comprehend such a supreme being?

PS Please no cryptic responses

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    "The bible is written by many people who aren't god" Most Christians would disagree with this. The Bible was written by people inspired by God himself. God designed our language. He's more than competent to communicate with us and reveal himself to us in a real way. – curiousdannii Sep 4 '19 at 0:01
  • We can understand some things about God, including what He wants of us, while being unable to understand other things about God. This is no more complicated than the fact that I understand some things about you, including that you don't want cryptic responses, while being unable to learn some other things about you, like your home address. – Andreas Blass Sep 4 '19 at 0:03
  • Believe it or not I am not god relating an example to me is irreverent – ninjahX Sep 4 '19 at 1:10
  • because he revealed what he wants from us. (10 commandments). The bible is God's revelation to us. We wouldn't come up on our own. – Grasper Sep 4 '19 at 13:53
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    There is a logical error in your reasoning. It is perfectly possible to understand a set of instructions without really understanding the author of such instructions, its motivation, or their purpose. I can perfectly understand how to use the microwave, without having a clue of how the microwave actually works (that is in effect my case). – luchonacho Sep 4 '19 at 17:19
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If by "comprehension" you mean "completely understanding God," then, yes, God is not comprehensible. But if by "comprehension" you mean "knowing God," then, no. God's existence and divinity are knowable to unaided human reason and even demonstrable:

Rom. 1:20: For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they [the unbelieving Romans] are inexcusable [for not knowing God].

We also know what God wants for us:

1 Thess. 4:3: For this is the will of God, your sanctification

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  • By "Comprehend" I mean the definition of "Comprehend". Just because you "know" someone does not mean you understand them – ninjahX Sep 3 '19 at 23:43
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    The phrases "know God", "to Know God" and "knowing God" as used in the Bible indicate more than awareness or superficial familiarity. The analogy is to two lovers, who have an intimate knowledge of each other. When attacking Job, one of the most scurrilous charges that they made was that Job - like the wicked - did not know God. – Paul Chernoch Sep 4 '19 at 17:24
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Paul states in Philippians 3:9-10 :

I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; [KJV]

Paul knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and through Christ he knew God as his Father.

Jesus himself prayed to the Father :

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. [KJV]

As to what God desires, he desires to bring many sons to glory, Hebrews 2:10, his commandment is eternal life, John 12:50.

And to Abraham, he said :

I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward, Genesis 15:1 [KJV].

God's desire is to do incalculable good towards them whom to whom he has given life.

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Your question is philosophical, not yet Christian, so to complement other answers, here's one straightforward philosophical answer that focus on logic, language, and reason. I also try to make clear what reasonable assumptions that we as Christians make, because most Christians believe that our faith is reasonable faith, not blind faith.

First, to rephrase the context of your question:

  • You are right that when Christians cannot answer certain religious questions involving God (such as why God allowed the Holocaust to happen) you are bound to hear answers like "God is above our understanding".

  • You are also right that if the Bible is written by "mere mortals" we do not have a guarantee of knowing anything about the true God; after all there are many false notions about God that people have written outside and even inside Christian communities!

  • You are also right that with unaided human reason we can only reach to the conclusion that 1) a great creator exists and 2) we have some ambiguous instinct that there are certain things that we ought to do (like do not murder) which we name "conscience". So that is the limit of what philosophers can come up with. Religious sages and myth writers would then "fill in the blanks" and come up with various answers of what various divine beings expect from us, especially in the areas where we are powerless (like death, appeasement of natural disasters, protection against more powerful enemies, etc.). So you are right in questioning how we, by human reason alone, can know what God wants.

Then, some notes on language:

  1. "Comprehending God" usually means knowing God in His essence, which if we construe God as having a distinct nature than us (a reasonable assumption!), we have no guarantee to be able to know God's essence. I cannot even comprehend my wife completely unless she helps me! This blog article should serve as a good introduction about this.

  2. But can we "know God" in the sense that I can know what my wife wants? You bet! In fact she would let me know more often than I want to know what my wife wants (although I'm usually grateful later, on being informed). Can I say it is a reliable knowledge of my wife's will even though I may not comprehend completely WHY she wants it? Of course. We both speak English.

Now to the building blocks of my answer:

  1. We start with the existence of the Creator God, which can be proven by philosophical reason; for example, the 5 ways of St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Anselm's Ontological argument.

  2. Because by definition this God is outside space and time and this God is greater than anything that we humans can imagine, it is reasonable to postulate that this God instills within our being the ability to know SOMETHING about him so we can direct our WILL, our REASON, and our EMOTION toward this God. The technical term for this is "general revelation", or knowledge of God obtainable through nature, and thus accessible to us without the Bible or people with special messages from God.

    • Is it necessary for this God to show EVERYTHING about him? NO
    • Is it reasonable to suppose that this God gives us ENOUGH so we can direct our will, reason, and emotion toward him? YES !
    • In other words, is it reasonable to suppose that our conscience comes from God and that our ultimate purpose / goal of our life terminates in God? YES !
    • Do we need to know why this God instills this SOMETHING within us this way? Or are we given a clue why are we "born this way"? NO (with the usual Christian answer that in THIS life God only gives us what we need for our salvation, meaning, and destination)
  3. But in addition, Christians believe that this God didn't just leave us with general revelation about Him, especially since most Christians believe how in the primordial time our conscience was marred by the Fall which corrupts this conscience, so it is not a reliable guide to God anymore just like a camera lens that has been heavily soiled. Hence the many false and terrible religions trying to construe God in human terms betraying that pure original conscience. One ancient God Molech requires child sacrifice !

  4. Christians believe that through His own generosity and love for his creation, God initiated a rescue plan. That's where the BIBLE, the ISRAELITES, the PATRIARCHS (Abraham, Jacob, David, etc.), and the PROPHETS (Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) came in. This God surgically inserted Himself many times into history, nature, and human consciousness. He appears in many different modes: theophany, inspiration (which led to the writing of the Bible), visions, miracles witnessed by the Israelites throughout 1500 years of Old Testament history, etc. The technical term for all the above is "special revelation".

    • Can humans come up with any of the above on their own? NO (everything is God initiated)
    • Is it reasonable to believe the above? YES (because to believe a "closed system" where God cannot enter is NOT a defensible assumption given that in point #1 we already defined God as something that can do any of the above)
    • Can humans refuse to believe any of the above? YES (since the root of the Fall in the first place was rebellion against God)
    • Can "mere mortals* become a vehicle for God initiated inspiration to write the Bible? YES (since by definition in point #1 God can elevate certain faculties of certain chosen prophet to infallibly communicate His message to us, to be written later in the Bible)
    • Can God guide the transmission of the oral tradition, which then led to the writing of the original manuscript, which then led to the copying of the manuscript that survived in the modern period so we have more or less an authentic special revelation of God that we can use to guide our own life? YES

Finally, the answer:

  1. When God is defined in #1 above we have a reasonable basis to know him through general revelation. But this is still impersonal and vague due to the corruption of our "lens" (conscience).

  2. It's critical to accept that the Bible is trustworthy precisely because it is NOT 100% human imagination, but a divinely guided inspiration process initiated by God plus empirical witness of how God acted in history. The "mere mortals" Bible authors you pointed out have specifically been chosen by God to be a vehicle of God's revelation of himself. Without this divine element, it is not reasonable to believe that the Bible contains anything true about God.

  3. Because the Christian God only reveals certain things about Him that is useful for our salvation, moral guide, and purpose in life, we cannot know everything about him.

  4. At the same time, we know more than enough about God as the Christian God INVITES us to know him more intimately as Paul Chernoch pointed out above:

    The phrases "know God", "to Know God" and "knowing God" as used in the Bible indicate more than awareness or superficial familiarity. The analogy is to two lovers, who have an intimate knowledge of each other.

  5. In summary, YES we cannot comprehend God completely, but since God REVEALED to us what He wants from us and INVITES us to know him intimately, we have enough guidance about his will for our life, which is too vast to be discussed here. It's precisely because God enables us to know Him that we "mere mortals" can do it.

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  • This is a superb answer and should be the accepted one. Deus te benedicat +10 – luchonacho Sep 5 '19 at 9:42
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Jeremiah 9:24 Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

God delights in being known and understood by people. In fact that is why he created man, so he could be known. Man was made in God's image for this very purpose. We have essential characteristics in our nature that are like God's. While it is true that he cannot be fully comprehended by man, he created us with the capacity to comprehend all the aspects of himself which he desired us to understand and know.

The "God is above our understanding" answer is often a pat answer you get from people who lack the ability to give bible based answers to questions.

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We know what God wants because God has flat-up told us what he wants, and then people wrote it down in manuscripts that were later assembled into the Bible.

Take, for instance, this passage from the Book of Matthew (Chapter 22, Verses 36-40):

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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It may be helpful to draw an analogy.

Say you learn about some complex physical phenomena in physics. You can know that it's true without fully understanding it yourself, based on authority (which makes up more of one's knowledge than people think).

We Christians take on the authority of those who were discipled and instituted teachers by Jesus Christ that certain things are to be believed about our Creator. We don't have to fully understand them in order to believe they are true, any more than you have to understand how quantum physics works: that something is true is quite distinct from how it is so. Perhaps the best example is the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe in one God who is tri-personal. We don't understand such a singular being as described can exist, but only because nothing in creation corresponds to it. But that doesn't mean it is irrational (unreasonable) but suprarational, or transcending the tool we call reason, which is used for understanding the created order. Irrational would be 'one God and three Gods' or 'one person and tri-personal.' For example.

God can make known His will insofar as creation can alert us to or inform us of it. For example, we "cannot see God and live" Exodis Yet God is known to have appeared to several people throughout sacred history. What they saw was not God 'face to face' as it were, but a manifestation or apparition which represents visually something of His invisible nature (for example, extreme brightness of the light representing purity or perfection, or awe-someness, and the overall insufficiency or unworthiness of the seer, for one interpretation). But we can never see God as He is—that is, unmediated—because such is impossible for unaided human nature (similar to how a 16GB memory stick simply isn't compatible with accepting more than 16GB of data).

So mere mortal apostles need no more be able to comprehend what it is they apprehend any more than we do. There are facts, and there are explanations or understandings thereof. They aren't the same.

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After understanding, with compelling coherence, some teachings for which multiple interpretations have been given, albeit with lesser coherence, and some even out of context, I have come to the conclusion that it's almost impossible to know what God requires of us without supernatural help.

After all, we are separated from the original information by several millenia and even geographically, and when we often misunderstand ongoing conversations because of semantics and idiosyncrasies, imagine the possibilities of missing the meaning in these extreme situations.

Fortunately, understanding the difficulties presented, Christ taught exactly that - the need for supernatural help. The Ancient Near East, being an agrarian society, used terms like grain, seed, fruit, bread, etc. extensively, mostly to denote riches, and in the case of the Bible, teachings:

Luke 11:1 It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” 2 And He said to them, “When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 3 ‘Give us each day our daily bread. 4 ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” 5 Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 “For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Now to come to the specific question of how to comprehend what God requires from us.

Applying the method I mentioned, when I ask God for bread, enlightenment, this is how He answers:

God wants us to be blessings to the world, through learning how to be that blessing. When we are baptised in the name of Christ, we know that we will receive the Holy Spirit, necessary for learning the Way. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we will be taught that picking up a cross, every day, leads to being resurrected, every day. How does the Holy Spirit teach this? By displaying God's great work in saving.

Remember, when Israel committed to stop serving selfish interests, and start serving God through selflessness, God immediately created situations where dangerous conditions came up, and He then saved from those conditions. Conditions like food and water shortages. His miracles in the wilderness were performed to build up faith in Israel, just as they did when they were performed in Egypt.

This is exactly how God taught Abraham faith, when He was exposed to risk to his life, on account of Sarah. Although he lied, it didn't take him out of danger, and his rescue was clearly through God's help.

These situations teach two things, lessons Abraham learnt, but Israel did not. Abraham intuited that God required him to trust him to be saved from danger. Second, these rescues were connected to the promise that the world would be blessed through him and his descendants. They were situations in which the great works of God would be displayed, so that those witnessing them would be motivated to serve God, like Abraham served God. You see similar parallels in the great works God empowered Moses and Christ with.

Exodus 4:1Then Moses said, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’” 2The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.” 3Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. 4But the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail”—so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

John 9:1As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

So when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as an offering, Abraham thought that the event was just another opportunity to display God's great work, believing that God would raise his son back from the dead.

Hebrews 11:19He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Conclusion

Baptism is induction into a course of comprehending what God requires of us, to become blessings to the world, a fulfilment of the promise to us, descendants of Abraham through faith in God. We are baptised into Christ, drink from the Rock, eat the same spiritual food, which will build up our faith in God, belief He will rescue. This was meant for the children, not for dogs, but faith makes us children of Abraham, like the syro-Phoenician woman. As for Israel, if the works done in her had been done in Sidon and Tyre, they would have turned to follow God, so her unbelief was great. After tasting the bread from heaven, if we do not believe in God's Way, and obey, when we hear God's voice to pick up our crosses, no other way is left to be saved.

We see that this conclusion was reached by being enlightened in a supernatural way, because seeing this motif buried in the forest of other motifs of Scripture would be impossible, if using any other method.

All Scriptural references from the NASB.

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