Theists have often been content to say that we are unable to comprehend God, that his being transcends our mundane experiences and that our concepts, which are derived from such experiences, cannot be used to describe him. If true, then this might be thought to count in favour of agnosticism; if we cannot comprehend God, then how can we reason with any confidence concerning his existence?
There is a strong theistic tradition that holds that our ability to comprehend God is limited. Our concepts are derived from our experiences, and our experiences are of flawed and finite existence; we therefore lack the conceptual tools necessary to understand what God is really like. God is incomprehensible to us. According to this tradition, when we apply our human concepts to God, describing him in terms that we have derived from our experience of the world, we must take great care. For God is neither flawed nor finite, and so our standard categories of thought do not apply to him. When we say that God is good, for example, we must remember that divine goodness is not the same thing as human goodness. Because God’s being transcends our experiences of the mundane, he transcends our understanding, and we can describe him only in borrowed language which fails to accurately describe him. In stressing God’s incomprehensibility, the distance between his being and our categories of thought, this tradition gives ammunition to the agnostic. To the extent that God is beyond our understanding, knowledge of God is presumably also beyond our understanding. The greater the distance between God and that which we have known, the more difficult it will be to answer the question as to whether or not God exists. If God is truly incomprehensible, then how can we affirm either theism or atheism?