Anyone who grew up in a small town can identify with the truism that “familiarity breeds contempt.” My hometown, while not terribly small, fits the model—we are fairly stunned when any of us makes good. I call it Small Town Syndrome. When you know a boy’s mama and daddy, the church he went to, and the house he grew up in, and when you attend school with him from kindergarten through twelfth grade, you feel able to quantify the limits of his potential with a fair level of accuracy. You know who will probably never amount to much, and when someone breaks out of your expectation, the shock is enough to fuel local gossip for years to come.

A friend of mine grew up in the same small town as a now-famous Hollywood actor. When I asked if there were any early indications of greatness, my friend said she recalled little about him other than that he was handsome and widely regarded by the local girls as a “terrible kisser.” (Now every time I see him kiss a woman on the silver screen, the romance of the moment is ruined as I search for any signs of revulsion on the face of his “kissee.”)

I suspect that all successful people have those in their past who regard their success with a vague sense of contempt, having “known them when.” And we can all relate in some measure to the experience of being discredited or undervalued by the people closest to us. Consider another target of Small Town Syndrome:

[Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” (Mark 6:1–4)

The people of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus. And in their familiarity, they held his teaching in contempt. They could not allow that he was anything more than they knew him to be. They believed their knowledge of who he was to be complete and accurate, and therefore found him easy to dismiss. They saw him as only a man, one whose measure they could take.

Knowing in Part

In the previous chapter we considered that God cannot be measured. Because we intend to learn more about God in this book, we must address how his limitlessness affects his knowability. Knowing who God is matters to us. It changes not only the way we think about him, but the way we think about ourselves. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. We cannot understand our human limitedness rightly until we see it compared to the limitlessness of God. By learning truth about him, we learn truth about ourselves. But how much do we know of him? Because he is limitless, the knowledge of who he is stretches to infinity.

God is incomprehensible. This does not mean that he is unknowable, but that he is unable to be fully known. It is the joyful duty, the delightful task of his children to spend their lives, both this one and the next, discovering who he is. According to Jesus, knowing God is the fundamental aim of life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We take pleasure in working to grow in our knowledge of him.

The truth of who God is surrounds us. Romans 1 tells us that all people have some knowledge of God just by looking around at creation. The Grand Canyon paints the contours of his character in broad brush strokes; majesty, eternity, omnipotence all announce themselves to the naked eye. But the believer, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, receives even deeper knowledge of God, found within the pages of the Bible. The Scriptures sketch his character with a fine-tipped pen for those who have eyes to see, elaborating across sixty-six books the story of who he is, what he has done, and what he will yet do.

But even with these declarations, God cannot be fully known by humans. Christians have meditated on the nature and character of God for thousands of years. Volumes have been written about God, but their sum does not contain the fullness of his attributes. The human mind in its finiteness cannot fully comprehend or express an infinite God. Even the most intellectually gifted theologian will barely scratch the surface of understanding who God is. He is fully known only to himself.

Put another way, the only expert on God is God.

Jen Wilkin, None like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

We have just released a new Bible Study on the topic None Like Him.

These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.

Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.

These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.

Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.