It has become quite common for people to assert that we cannot know anything about God, or that anything we ascribe to Him is neither true nor false, but simply meaningless. God is said to be ineffable. This assertion is often offered in the context of evangelism. In our attempt to persuade someone to become a Christian, we make certain truth-claims about God, and are met by the “God is ineffable” response, effectively shutting down the conversation. What can you say to such a person? I would suggest you ask a simple question: why? Why should we think God is ineffable? Typically, the reasons proffered will include “Because God is wholly other,” “Because God transcends language,” or “Because God surpasses human categories of thought.”

Do you notice something amiss about these responses?: They all ascribe certain characteristics to God’s nature, and these characteristics are thought to be true descriptions of God. In essence they are saying it is true that God is wholly other, and transcends human language and categories of thought, and this is why nothing can be true of God. Or similarly, they know God is wholly other, and transcends human language and categories of thought, and this is why nothing can be known of God.

This is self-refuting. They are claiming to know certain truths about God, that make it impossible to know truths about God. The advocate of an ineffable deity is left in the strange situation where he is unable to provide any reason for thinking God to be ineffable, without having to claim to know something true about Him. If the “ineffabalist” cannot provide a reason for thinking God to be ineffable without giving us true knowledge about Him, there is no reason to think God is ineffable.