One of the highest points in my short, six-year teaching career in the Biblical Studies department at Bethel College was in the spring of 1977. I had spent the entire semester on Romans 9–11 leading about a dozen advanced Greek students through the rigorous exegesis of these three chapters. It was the final class of the year, and I was drawing the final “arcs” on the board to sum up all the relationships between all the units.
I drew one last arc over all three chapters, from one side of the board to the other, and underlined Romans 11:36 as the ultimate point of the entire section: “From him, through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” Before I could turn around, these twelve students — some of the brightest I ever had (including Tom Steller) — began to sing the doxology.
I didn’t ask them to. I didn’t plan it. It just came out. And that’s the way it was for Paul when he wrote this. He comes to the end of these three chapters on the ultimate purposes of God to show the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, and he breaks into doxology as he closes. All theology, rightly grasped, leads the mind and the heart to doxology. The story of God is about the glory of God. All revelation of the ways of God leads to exultation over the wonders of God. That is what today’s final section in Romans 11:33–36 show us.
Today we will focus on verse 33, and Lord willing, finish the paragraph next time.
“Oh, the Depths!”
Verse 33a: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
The riches and wisdom and knowledge of God are described here as indescribably “deep.” Oh, the depth!” means: The depth is very deep. It is so deep that it simply elicits from the inspired apostle, as he peers into the ravine of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge, an undefined “Oh!” The deeps here are indescribably deep.
“All theology, rightly grasped, leads the mind and the heart to doxology.”
Three things come to mind with this expression of the depths of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge.
1. Unspeakable Hiddenness
First, hiddenness. Daniel 2:21–22 says, “[God] gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness.” Notice the connection between “deep” and “hidden.” “Oh, the depth!” means that there are hidden dimensions to God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge. They are deep in the sense that they are out of our sight, unreachable. We can’t go down there. There will always be depths of God we do not know, because he is infinite and we are finite. We will always be seeing more forever.
2. Objective Reality
Second, after “hiddenness,” “depth” implies reality. There is something down there. If there is nothing really down there, then the riches and wisdom and knowledge are not deep. They are a delusion. I mention this even though it is obvious because of how many public sophisticated denials of the obvious happen today.
Friday night I heard on MPR an interview with a woman who with a sophisticated, authoritative air about her, say, “Theology is poetry.” And the awed interviewer said, “That’s a beautiful thought, say more about that.” Which she was happy to do, concluding with, “After all, religion is a human art form.” Frankly, I wanted to throw up. But when the moral nausea passed, I prayed that God would open their eyes so that they would no longer talk like three-year-olds who call their parents make-believe while they eat the supper daddy bought and mommy prepared.
It was not a beautiful thought. It was a tragic and ugly thought. The riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God revealed in Scripture are not a human art form, and biblical theology is not a poetic product of human imagination. When Paul says, “Oh the depth!” he means there is something down there. He has revealed some of it. He knows there’s more. He is speaking of objective reality — that God knows and we know in part.
3. Ultimate Foundation
Third, the words “Oh the depth!” signify that this reality is foundational. He could have said, “Oh, the heights of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” That would be true too. It’s the difference between the deep roots and the high branches of an infinite tree. It’s the difference between deep causes and high effects. It’s the difference between beginnings and goals.
Here Paul is saying that God is at the bottom of things. It is true that God is also at the top of things. All things are rooted in God, and all things are moving toward God. As verse 36 says, “From him and . . . to him are all things.” The infinite depths are his, and the infinite heights are his. He is the foundation, and he is the destination of all things. There is no explanation beneath God. No matter how deep you go, there is only God. He is the last explanation whether you go down to causes or go up to purposes.
So his initial words, “Oh, the depth!” signify at least: unspeakable hiddenness, objective reality, and ultimate foundation. Then Paul mentions the three things about God that elicit this exultation: riches, wisdom and knowledge. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”
Take God’s “riches” first. God is rich in at least three senses.
1. God Owns All
First, God owns all that exists that is not God. Psalm 24:1 is the most familiar statement of this truth:
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein.
But Deuteronomy 10:14 is far more sweeping:
Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”
“Bill Gates is a pauper and has nothing compared to the poorest heir of God.”
So not only does God own the earth and all that is in it, including you, but he also owns the reaches of space and the heavens beyond the heavens with all their angelic armies. In other words, nothing exists outside of God that is not God’s. He owns it, and, as his possession, he may do with it as he pleases. Human wealth compared to God’s wealth is ridiculously tiny and laughable to boast in. Bill Gates is a pauper and has nothing compared to the poorest heir of God (Romans 8:17).
2. God Makes All
Second, God is rich in the sense that he made all that is and can make anything he pleases and as much as he pleases out of nothing. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 8:3; 104:24). In other words, his resources are infinite because the resources out of which he can make anything is nothingness, and there is an incalculable “amount” of nothingness.
Or to say it more simply, if you can make what you please effortlessly out of nothing, then your riches are limitless, because your creativity is not limited by raw materials. You don’t need raw materials. God is infinitely rich, because he owns all that is, and because he can make more of anything that he pleases out of nothing.
3. God Is the Infinite Treasure of the Universe
Third, God is rich in the sense that he himself is the infinite Treasure of the universe. God does not have to create anything or to own anything in order to be rich. He is himself of infinite value. And since he exists as a Trinity of persons in one Godhead, he has been able to enjoy the riches of his own glory from all eternity existing in the other persons of the Godhead.
When Paul speaks in other places of “the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7) and “the riches of his kindness” (Romans 2:4) and “the riches of his glory” (Romans 9:23), this is the main thing: God freely giving himself in grace and kindness to us for our enjoyment of his own all-satisfying glory forever.
Or the most personal and ultimate way to speak of God’s wealth is to call it “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (which Paul does in Ephesians 3:8) — not just riches that Christ gives, but the riches that Christ is. As Paul says in Colossians 1:27, “The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ himself is the present guarantee and the future gift of the glory of God. When Christ died, he bought and he became our greatest Treasure. He himself is the gift and the greatness of the glory of God.
“Wisdom and Knowledge of God”
And that leads us from the term riches to the terms wisdom and knowledge here in Romans 11:33, because in Colossians 2:3 Paul says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Part of what makes God so wealthy is the infinite wisdom and knowledge that he has.
What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Sometimes in the Bible they are almost interchangeable. But generally knowledge is awareness of facts and wisdom is awareness of how to use those facts for good goals.
Paul says that God’s knowledge is unfathomably deep. He knows all recorded facts — all the facts stored in all the computers and all the books in all the libraries in the world. But vastly more than that, he knows all events at the macro level — all that happens on earth and in the atmosphere and in all the farthest reaches of space in every galaxy and star and planet. And all events at the micro level — all that happens in molecules and atoms and electrons and protons and neutrons and quarks. He knows all their movements and every location and every condition of every particle of the universe at every nano-second of time. And he knows all events that happen in human minds and wills — all volitional and emotional and spiritual events — all thoughts and choices and feelings.
And that includes past, present, and future. He knows every event that has ever happened and ever will happen at every level of existence: physical, mental, volitional. And he knows how all facts and all events, of every kind, relate to each other and affect each other. When one event happens, he not only sees it, but he sees the eternal chain of effects that flow from it and from all the billions of events that are unleashed by every other event. He knows all this without the slightest strain on his mind. That is what it means to be God.
“Christ is the final and ultimate meaning of all reality.”
And Paul says that not only God’s knowledge but also God’s wisdom is unfathomably deep. God is infinitely wise. That is, he has always been able to conceive and carry out plans that have good goals and that make use of all that knowledge to bring to pass what he purposes. He knows how to use all the facts of the universe and guide all the events of the universe to achieve the best end, namely, the display of the fullness of his glory magnified in the white-hot worship of a blood-bought people.
And all the treasures of this wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ Jesus (Colossians 2:3). Christ is the Creator of all created reality: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). And Christ is the sustainer of all created reality. Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” And all created reality is for the sake of making Christ known and loved: “all things were created . . . for him” (Colossians 1:16).
The Ultimate Meaning of Reality
Therefore, all knowledge and all wisdom and all riches originate in him, and are held in existence by him, and are for the purpose of making him known. Therefore, Christ is the final and ultimate meaning of all reality.
Which means that nothing can be fully or rightly known that is not known in relation to Jesus Christ.
“In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Treasures. Wisdom. Knowledge. “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and the knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33)!
The riches are finally Jesus Christ himself offered to us as our all-satisfying Treasure (Colossians 1:27). “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing [deeply, personally, joyfully knowing] Christ Jesus my Lord [my Treasure, my Riches]” (Philippians 3:8).
The wisdom of God is finally Jesus Christ himself, crucified and risen and reigning — a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are being called the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23–24). Christ is God’s way, God’s truth, and God’s life. He is the wise end and goal of all things.
And God’s unfathomable knowledge is also in Christ Jesus. All facts and events arise from him. All facts and events are sustained by him. All facts and events point to him. He is the meaning of all knowledge. There is no true knowledge that is not related to Christ. Every thought in a human mind, or in the mind of a demon, about any fact or any event in the world, that is not truly connected to Christ, is a thought in rebellion against the Truth and against God. There is no true knowledge apart from Christ. That is how radically Christ-exalting all of life should be.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” May the revelation of the Son and the revelation of his ways move you to stand in awe of him, and make him the beginning, the middle, and the end in all you think and feel and do. Oh, come let us worship and bow down!