“Then you will know… Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.” We heard those words just a moment ago in our OT reading, and I wonder if those words from God stuck with Moses throughout his life. I wonder if he recalled them as he watched those 10 plagues in Egypt unfold. I wonder if they came to mind as he saw that sea part and Pharaoh’s army swallowed as those waters came crashing down. I wonder if he thought of them when manna appeared on the ground and quail fell from the sky. “Then you will know.” Do you think those words came back to Moses on that day he stood atop Mount Nebo and caught a glimpse of that promised land, the land promised to him so long ago? Do you think Moses as he stood there remembered all the other promises God made and kept during that long arduous journey leading to this moment? It wouldn’t surprise me then if tears filled his eyes as he looked out and saw what had been promised. Now, he knew. Now he knew the depths of God’s heart for his people. Now he knew the glory and praise that God deserved.
It seems that Paul felt a similar sense of understanding of God and awe of God as his hand wrote those final words we read today from Romans eleven. Paul, if you remember from last week, had just finished writing about the amazing grace of God showered upon gentile people, people like you and me, and how that same grace and mercy was available for all people, Jew and gentile, regardless of one’s own merit or past history. Paul’s reaction to all of this then can be found in verse 33 of our lesson. Listen to Paul’s words, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
I feel like an old timer when I say this, but do you remember back in the day when at restaurants parents didn’t have phones for their children to play games on or there weren’t those little kiosks on each table through which you could pay and kids could play games? What did restaurants use to have before that – maybe some still do – paper and crayons, right? And inevitably on those pieces of paper that the server handed out there would be one of those connect-a-dot pictures – do you remember these? These dots held no meaning until you’d take your crayon and you’d go from the dot labeled #1 to dot #2 and so on and suddenly, oh cool! You’d create this nifty picture! Don’t we do this with God?
In life, there are sometimes all these dots, all these events, and we’re very much meaning makers. We want to know what is the meaning of this and why did that happen? And so we try to connect these dots in our life to make sense of them, but, wait a second, “I’m not seeing it. Lord, I don’t get the picture you’re going for.” That’s what Paul is saying here, God’s judgments are unsearchable and his paths untraceable. But, note how this verse is worded.
Paul starts out talking about “the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” In Greek, that word depths has in mind the deepest parts of the water. So, if you’re in the ocean and you’re in the deepest part of the ocean and you look down you might say, “That is deep.” Or, you could exclaim, “Oh, how deep!” That’s what Paul is doing here. He isn’t just stating, “Oh, the Lord is rich in wisdom,” no, it’s “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” It’s an exclamation! But, here is the question, what’s the tone of that exclamation? Go back to your connect-a-dot life.
Sometimes we might find God to be hard to follow as he works things out in our lives. Does that frustrate you? I think at times it might. And so our tone about God and his depths might sound a little angry, “Oh, the depths…” Or, we might find it encouraging that God is working in what might seem the strangest of ways. And, as we watch how his plan unfolds, that comes out in a awe struck tone, “Oh, the depths” That is the tone of Paul. It’s one of awe.
Now he knows, after looking back on God’s grace and mercy how God’s workings are so fantastic and so incomprehensible. Now he knows that God isn’t someone who fits into the small box of our reason and understanding…that’s why he is God. And, Paul invites us to know what he knows about God. He does this through three humbling questions, we see them there in verses 34 and 35 – check it out.
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” The answer to each one of these questions is, “No one!” That is humbling. Let’s say you’re invited to go golfing and you know just enough about golf to be dangerous and you’re going with a friend, but your friend brings someone else along with too. And as you watch this stranger golf you think that you could give them a few pointers on their swing and on their stance. And, so, being the nice person that you are, you do. Only to find out that this stranger is a professional who knows way more about golf than you do. Suddenly, you’re embarrassed. Suddenly, you’re humbled. That’s what these questions do for us.
We can be very quick to tell God, “Lord, I got this all figured out. This is what you need to do for me.” But here God reminds us, “No, I am much wiser than you. No, I don’t need your advice…just trust me.” You know often when we question God, the problem isn’t with God it is with us and the shallowness of our wisdom and our understanding. Our pride might even move us to attack God and accuse him of not keeping his promises to us. And, that’s maybe where that third question is most helpful – let me read it again – “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
Now, I don’t know about you, but there are many times in my life where I think God owes me one, but that’s just not true. God has never owed me or you anything. Well, we deserve one thing from him. We deserve an eternity in hell – that’s what our sins deserve. Yet, isn’t that why Paul writes with such words of exclamation? Isn’t that why he shares what he now has learned and knows about God? Paul knows how frustrated and difficult it is to sometimes understand God’s ways and God’s timing. He knows the hell we all deserve for our sin. And, he knows that at times God seems to be just an angry uncaring unloving callous judge – Paul knows this! He knows that God’s ways are untraceable and his judgments unsearchable, yet there is one path of God that can be traced, one that can be followed. It’s the path of his Son, Jesus.
God wanted us to know that path. He wanted us to see it. He wanted us to be a part of this plan, so that we could marvel and stand in awe of what it would mean – our salvation. God does not hide this plan from us. He wants us to know how great, and deep, and high his love is for each of us. And, here at the end of chapter 11 Paul could only write with awe as he saw how God’s plan of salvation unfolded. How both Jew and Gentile were recipients of God’s undeserved kindness. How our God is a God of love.
The Bible tells us this over and over again. “We love because he first loved us.” “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” “God so loved the world.” God so loved you. Do you ever stop to think about that? Why, why would God love you? Why would he love someone who breaks his heart again and again? Why would God give his own Son to save you, to give you an eternal life, not death, life with him in heaven. What makes you so worthy? As we heard, nothing. Yet, he did. God did! That’s what Paul wants us to now know. This God whom he served has served each of us in such an unfathomable way, so that we can call him Father, and be with him in a glory, in a heaven, a place without pain, or suffering, or loss, or tears, or fear for all eternity. Now, you know that.
Here is what that means for your life each day, that as you stand in awe of God and wonder aloud “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” You can still trace the path of his love and as you trace that path, you will know he’s going to use his wisdom and knowledge for your good. That means our biggest and worst problems in life are in the best hands possible. That as you look at the complex issues out there, in the world, and the complex issues here, inside you, God’s at work accomplishing his good will. Best of all it means you know that heaven really is yours through faith in Jesus, and that’s no small thing.
I hear then again those words echoing from our OT lesson, “Then you will know.” Aren’t those words true today? Now you know. Now you know God in the most intimate way as you have seen to depths of his wisdom and understanding, you have seen Jesus and a love unlike any other reserved for you. May this knowledge ever lead you to remember and repeat these words that Paul just had to end with, words of praise: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him, to God, be the glory forever! Amen.”