“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36 HCSB)
When I share my thoughts and understanding about God and His Word on these posts, I usually try to contextualize it or make it more understandable and relatable by using something that is common or through the telling of stories. Common words, ideas or experiences can help us understand and stories help illustrate and explain. However, when it comes to different forms of religious worship we often tend to shrug our shoulders, roll our eyes and reply, “to each, his own.” We often don’t understand forms of worship from foreign cultures because, well, they’re foreign to us. But worship is a universal trait of mankind and every culture worships in some form or fashion. Even cultures who claim to be agnostic (god is unknowable) or atheist (there is no god) have forms of worship, it just happens to be inward and self focused but it’s still worship. Therein lies the problem. Worship that isn’t based on truth is simply a lie, an affront to the truth and God and a journey down a destructive and dead-end path.
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 HCSB)
Paul has used the preceding eleven chapters to give us knowledge and understanding of God through the revelation of Himself in Jesus of Nazareth. We started out with the sinful depravity and universal guilt of man (see 1:18-32) and the resulting judgment of our sin – “we’ve all fallen short of attaining God’s glory (3:23).” Then Paul introduced us to the grace of God through faith as illustrated in Abraham and David (4:1-25). He then showed us that God has not only triumphed over sin, but “God loved us while we were still sinners and unworthy of God’s love (5:8).” But God has offered us grace, life and spiritual growth through the power and presence of His Spirit if we are willing to surrender to Christ (8:1-30). Just so we wouldn’t become conceited and pride-filled, he spent three chapters grounding us in the facts of God’s sovereignty and our dependence (9-11). Now, we’ve reached the summit and as we glance down at where we started and up and out towards the limitless reaches of God’s grace, Paul can’t help but erupt into singing and worship.
As I mentioned above, worship is something we humans do as a part of who and what we are. We were made for worship. For example, we currently are experiencing the Summer Olympic Games and we annually celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize, various sports championships, endless entertainment awards and celebrity recognitions. These achievements and ceremonies are classic examples of our human tendency to worship. However, our worship is often misplaced and misaligned. We tend to worship whomever or whatever evokes an emotional response in our lives and, therein, lies one of the dangers of false worship – spirit without truth. We give honor and worship to that which touches our spirits and elicits an emotional reaction but it is lacking in truth and is therefore unworthy of our worship. This happens quite often in our modern culture and is evident in our wholehearted devotion to various causes, celebrities or teams.
Unfortunately, it also happens as we substitute national pride and deeply held religious beliefs as a surrogate for true worship of God. So, let me state this very clearly… love of country and love of God are not the same thing. It’s ok to love your country and be patriotic, just don’t confuse that with love of God and try to make them the same thing or even equal in importance. To do so is to blaspheme and curse God. God may have blessed America, but He did NOT relinquish His position of authority, place of honor and His exclusive right of worship to her. Never forget that the Pharisees attempted to use this very issue as a means to trap Jesus and discredit Him before the Roman authorities.
“Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? ” But detecting their craftiness, He said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have? ” “Caesar’s,” they said. “Well then,” He told them, “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:22-25 HCSB)
So, we should give to Caesar those things that are his (taxes and respect) and to God those things that are His (worship and reverence). Obey Caesar, or whatever ruler God has placed over you, until doing so puts you at odds with obedience to God and, when faced with such a choice, always choose to obey God. Now that we’ve established a few ground rules, let’s dive into the focal passage.
Paul stands on the summit of God’s Amazing Grace and looks out over the vast landscape of faith and states: “Oh, the depth of God’s riches, wisdom and knowledge. How unsearchable (inscrutable) are His judgments and untraceable His ways.” Paul marvels at the depth of God’s riches, wisdom and knowledge. Like often happens in misguided worship, as described above, we lose sight of God because we are too short sighted. We focus on the emotional issues at hand while ignoring the reality of God. I’ll let Jesus illustrate the point: “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? …So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear? ’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” (Matthew 6:26, 31-33 HCSB)
If God’s riches are that deep, if His wisdom is that broad and His knowledge that comprehensive then why are we so concerned about the minor issues consuming our thoughts and feeding our fears? Before Paul launches us into the practical aspects of Christian living among in the midst of an unbelieving world, He wants to get our hearts and minds focused on the God we serve and are called to obey. He wants our worship to be based in Spirit (heart felt, deeply emotional) and Truth (logically sound, scripturally accurate, Jesus focused). There’s nothing God calls us to do that His vast resources can’t supply and equip us to meet. There are no challenges we’ll face as the people of God that His wisdom cannot guide us through. There are no circumstances that we’ll encounter that surpass His knowledge or understanding. All of these things should cause us to fall before Him in worship.
Then Paul tells us that God’s judgments are unsearchable or inscrutable and His ways untraceable. This simply means that when God judges He does so with understanding and knowledge that we are simply incapable of understanding. His ways and the paths that He takes are beyond our ability to trace, follow or pursue. In other words, you can’t fill His shoes or follow in His footsteps. This is possibly the biggest issue for the modern renaissance man. Modern man is prideful in his claims of knowledge, understanding and ability and many stumble over the idea of bowing before God’s sovereignty, power and wisdom. For example, famed scientist Richard Dawkins recently stated: “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” It would appear that Dawkins, in his infinite wisdom, has reversed the roles that man and God have played in the story of mankind and redemption. God is capricious, mean and evil spirited while man is the one who is just, right and good. Dawkins would say that he doesn’t believe in god and I would say, that’s a lie. Everyone believes in god in some form or fashion. Dawkins believes in a god, it is simply himself. What about you? Is God beyond you? More than you? Greater and wiser than you? Or is god you?
Two quick observations before I move on… 1) if God doesn’t exist then justice, goodness and truth cannot exist; 2) if you are god of your own life then there is no one and nothing outside of yourself who can help you when you fail… you’re on your own without hope. Think on those things.
Finally, Paul gives us a series of questions to ponder. 1) Who has known the mind (or thoughts) of the Lord? 2) Who has been His counselor (or given Him advice)? 3) Who has ever given to Him (something He didn’t have or needed) so that God is indebted to him? While these are intended to be rhetorical questions, they should cause us to pause and consider the weight of the questions they pose. Now, in all honesty, we’ve all been guilty of claiming to know the mind/thoughts of God, or of trying to give God advice, and even thinking that God owes us because of how much we’ve sacrificed or given for Him. But in reality, we know that’s simply not true. God doesn’t need our help, advice or resources. He’s not dependent on us, we’re dependent on Him.
That brings me to Paul’s conclusion, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Notice the progression of Paul’s thought… from Him, through Him and to Him.
First: EVERYTHING flows from Him. He is the creator of all things.
“All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.” (John 1:3 HCSB)
Second: everything flows through Him. He is the sustainer of all things.
“He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17 HCSB)
Finally, everything flows to Him. Everything and everyone exists for His purpose and will.
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 HCSB)
You exist because of the thought, will and intent of God. You are not a mistake, you are His creation. You continue to exist because He sustains and upholds you. You do not stand alone, He wants you to walk with Him. You exist for His purpose and to do His will. You will find your deepest needs met and deepest desires fulfilled when you finally yield yourself to God’s purpose and plan. There is no greater realization than to find yourself in Him and when you do you will fall down in worship before Him and you’ll do it all for His glory – He deserves it!