As the apostle Paul comes to the end of his discussion of God’s plan of redemption in Christ he breaks out into praise. Stott describes Paul’s words as “an astonished exclamation.”1
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing 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?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36 NIV1984)
As translated above Paul speaks of the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom, and the depths of the riches of God’s knowledge. There is disagreement on how best to translate the first half of verse 33. The ESV translates, Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! This latter appears to be the better translation (see the commentaries).
Oh, the depth–the “inexhaustible fullness”, the “superabundance.”2
Oh, the depth of the riches…of God!
One reason for my preference of the ESV (also NRSV) translation is Paul’s use of God’s riches elsewhere. The riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience (Romans 2:4). The riches of his glory (Romans 9:23). The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him (Romans 10:12). The riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us (Ephesians 1:7-8). God, who is rich in mercy (Ephesian 2:4). This grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16).
From the inexhaustible riches of God come his blessings upon us in Jesus Christ. God’s love, mercy, and grace, salvation and hope in Christ, come from the inexhaustible riches of God.
Oh, the depth…of the wisdom…of God!
The wisdom of God is hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:2-3). It is displayed on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18ff). God’s wisdom is unfolded in his saving purpose in Christ (Ephesians 1:8; 3:10). It is this wisdom of which Paul writes in Romans 1-11. It is this wisdom of which Paul is in awe, the inexhaustible wisdom of God.
But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).
Oh the depth…of the knowledge of God.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139:6, 17, 18).
God’s knowledge of the past, present, and future, his knowledge of all things, including you and me, is inexhaustible.
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
God’s “decisions are unsearchable, and his ways inscrutable.”3
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
This is the God in whom I place my faith through Jesus Christ. He is the God creation proclaims. It is this God who reveals himself in Scripture and in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet there is more to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
How can we finite human beings “penetrate into the infinite mind of God? His mind and his activity are altogether beyond us.”4 We are able to know only what God reveals of himself. Even with his revelation God is still beyond our full understanding. There is no advice we can give to God. We have no wisdom or knowledge to add to his inexhaustible wisdom and knowledge. There is nothing we can give to God to add to his inexhaustible riches, to make God indebted to us.
For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
“God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal.”5 He is the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father!
My faith, worship, and life are all in response to God, to who he is and what he has done and is doing in Jesus Christ. This God whom Paul praises in Romans 11:33-36. There is a paradox here for me. Paul’s praise present the very frustration I have concerning God and the negative, tragic, and heartbreaking events of life.
Why? There are so many question and doubts, so much hurt and anger. God, why don’t you do what I want? Why don’t you do what I think I know is best? Why the suffering? Why is death so often filled with such pain and too soon? Why is there such hatred? Why does it all go on and on, again and again?
I (certainly we) want to know the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God. If I (we) could only search his judgments and know his mind! Here is the paradox, if I understood all there is to understand of God, if there was no mystery, God becomes god. The understanding I likely want is that of god as he fits into my image of what god is to be. What a small god that is! A god whom I could not trust. Yes, the inexhaustible mind of God in the midst of the dark times of life is challenging and often frustrating. Yet, the fact God is greater than I am able to fully comprehend, inexhaustible in his riches, wisdom, and knowledge, is a pillar of strength for my faith and my assurance of hope that beyond the dark clouds the Son shines.
It is difficult for the heart and mind to comprehend the dark nights of life’s struggles and tragedies. Where is the purpose? Why? I remember God’s love in Christ, his grace and mercy abounding out of his riches. In Christ I am assured that the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God are shaped by his righteousness, justice, goodness, and love. In the darkest night with its fears, doubts, and anger, I look to Christ and see the depth of God and I trust.
____________ 1 John Stott, Romans, God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 309. 2 Jack Cottrell, Romans, Volume 2, CD version (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 299. 3 Stott, 310. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid., 311.