Mystery is something that Christians, and especially teens need to find precious and not threatening. God by his very nature is beyond us. If our gut-reaction is to always have quick answers and pat justifications we, by default, do dishonor to the God we worship. If God really is beyond us then, at some point, our questions have to stop, our minds will fail us, reason will have to be bedded down, and we must simply worship.
In my ministry, we recently began a series called “None Like Him.” In this series, we walk through several of God’s “incommunicable attributes.” Incommunicable means “unshared.” We share some of God’s attributes – like His love, goodness, and graciousness – just in finite ways. But God’s incommunicable attributes are true things about God that can never be true of us. We do not share them. So in this series, once a week we have begun to unpack a different way God is unlike us. Such as: God is eternal. God is immutable. God is incomprehensible. God is self-sufficient and self-existent.
God is not like us, but that’s a very good thing.
Here are seven reasons I have chosen to focus on God’s incommunicable attributes, and why I think they’re important for teens to understand.
1.They prevent idolatry.
Teens (like all humans) want to bring God down to their level. Grasping for equality with God is the essence of idolatry – worshipping creation, rather than Creator. However, picking and pasting the parts of God we prefer and the parts we easily understand lead us to a papier-mâché God made in our own image. By zeroing in on the ways God cannot be fully understood, we recognize how unique God is, and we see idolatry for the insanity that it is (Daniel 4).
2. “Even though we can’t understand God fully, we can understand him truly.”
I reiterate these words each week that we preach through this series. It’s important for teens to understand that there is a category for ideas that goes beyond reason but is not irrational. Christians hold this truth to be precious. It means that God is most certainly a mystery but – like a good Sherlock tale – a mystery with facts that can be examined and analyzed, with satisfying conclusions drawn. Our knowledge of God can never be full but it can be true – and it can most certainly be satisfying.
3. They lead us to the true miracle of the incarnation.
As we examine the God who is above all things, we are more and more staggered that He came “under” any thing at all. God is totally independent and without need, but becomes dependent on Mary. God is infinite in all directions yet becomes local. God is sovereign even over atoms, but dies under the control of a politician He created, a politician He knew would be in power. Jesus and His incarnation become more precious when we understand how God is not like us.
4. “All Christian theology should be ultimately pride-shattering.”
I don’t know where I heard this but if, at the center of our faith, is God becoming man – if, at the center of our faith, we have a crucified king – then not only does all theology point and find it’s truest expression in Jesus, all theology must also lead us to lay down every pretension, every claim to superiority, and every thought that says “we deserve.” Our pride will always be shattered when confronted with the unhuman humility of Jesus.
5. It is our obligation to raise our students’ concept of God until it is worthy of Him.
Pastors have the responsibility of training our students to think the same thoughts about God, that God has about Himself. God has revealed Himself in His world, His Word, and in His Son so that we may worship Him with all our mind.
6. It is also our obligation to raise our students’ affections until they are worthy of Him.
Jonathan Edwards would tell us that right knowledge, without right affections, does not honor God. By teaching the incommunicable attributes, we raise our knowledge of God so that we might be stirred to worship God with more full-throated and frenetic joy. Theology for our teens is how we get them to worship in spirit and in truth.
7. Most (teens) will never read a systematic theology.
This is sadly true. But we have an opportunity to whet appetites for deep, systematic, thorough, and Bible-wide thoughts about God. Teaching the incommunicable attributes is also an opportunity to introduce our students to categories of thought that will be important as they grow older and enter into more complex life experiences.
There are a lot of excellent resources for this. Here are the ones I can recommend:
None Like Him, Jen Wilkin
The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer
Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem
Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck (if you are feeling adventurous)
All systematic theologies will have an “Attributes of God” section so if you have a favorite, use that!