When you think of God, what do you envision? Is he an old man, sitting in a rocker, looking down on earth with an occasional wagging finger over some particularly egregious sin? Is he some supercomputer making calculations and keeping tabs on the universe? Do you consider him a her? Is God such an unknown that you envision nothing? Maybe instead of envisioning God, you envision his traits. Is he kind? Loving? Does he have a short fuse? Is he moody or easily angered? What is your role and relationship with God? Do you ignore him? Do you fear him? Is your relationship strained? Is he your harbor in the storms of life? Is he the kind and loving parent who is “always there” for you?
In 1952, the British clergyman J. B. Phillips published the Christian classic Your God is Too Small. Phillips wrote at a time when the world was upside down. Just seven years earlier, the world finished a devastating world war, and the post-war cleanup unveiled attempted genocide of the Jewish people that bordered on the unbelievable. Science had provided the war with the annihilation and residual radiation from two exploded atomic bombs. Propelling the world into the nuclear age, splitting the atom changed the profile of war and armed conflict in ways that threatened every nation and even humanity itself.
In the midst of this time, Phillips found that the average person’s mental horizons had “expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries.” Many people, he found, had not “found a God big enough for modern needs.”1 Phillips’s concerns included those who went to church and worshipped, adhering to the Christian faith, and also extended to those people who had no room for faith, at least as they saw among those attending church. Phillips wrote to educate, to instill faith, and to encourage people living in a new age and world to better understand God.
Now in 2020, the world has changed even more, and scientific knowledge has grown exponentially. Science has advanced, the world has gotten smaller, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and we find that all too often in the beliefs of many, God is still too small.
How small is your God?
Perhaps you equate God with your conscience, a moral policeman residing in the mind of each person? Making conscience God is both wrong and dangerous. Common sense shows that no one’s conscience is an infallible guide. In fact, what might truly violate one person’s conscience might find easy affirmation in another’s, depending upon one’s upbringing, etc. In one’s own lifetime, conscience frequently changes on some matters. Do you understand God by relating him to your earthly father, a dangerous and “small” view of God in two different ways. First, for those who have tyrannical, indulgent, or unjust fathers, this causes an image of God as a fearful being who is both unapproachable and difficult to worship. The Biblical analogy of God as Father is meant to stir up a realization that God has an intimate love for and interest in his people, just as a good father does for his son.
Maybe you see him as meek and mild. Jesus was far from mild! Jesus cleaned the temple, overturning the moneychangers’ tables. He confronted the power brokers of his day. He made choices that placed him in very precarious positions and ultimately walked knowingly into his own death. Christ might well be called “meek,” in the sense of being selfless and humble and utterly devoted to what He considered right, whatever the personal cost; but “mild,” never!
None of this accurately describes God. It’s all too small in thought and understanding. What’s even more astounding is that this God, in all his infinite greatness that he must be to be God, still focuses on us!
So how big is your God I ask!
The prophet Isaiah set God out as one who, figuratively, marked off these heavens with the span of his hand. In this figure of speech, God’s hand measures off the space that is, by our estimates, 93 billion light years across. In human terms, it would take light 93 billion years to travel from God’s thumb to his pinkie. Of course, the thrust of these passages is not to limit God. Scripture does not turn God into a massive super-human. The point of these passages is to set God uniquely apart in majesty and power, while drawing out the bizarre truth that this massive God, cares and is mindful of man. These passages put into human terms the image of God in his infinite nature. The problem sets in often as adults where we have grown into our environment and are much less ready to recognize a being as much greater than we ourselves. After all, as adults, we become the masters of our environment. We see ourselves in control, we see what we know as fairly impressive, and we do not consider that there might be something so much greater than we could even conceive.
God is a detailed God. Science has indicated incredible complexity in man. Man is not a clunky singular specimen that exists only as man. Instead, man and all matter exists on a mega- microscopic level. We can take man down on a cellular level to the constituent parts of each cell. We can then see that the cells themselves are collections of molecules. The molecules are reducible down to atoms, which themselves break down into subatomic particles. God has created a universe as vast on a sub- microscopic level as it is on a telescopic level. Into this detail, in a miracle we call the incarnation, God took on the leptons and quarks of this universe’s matter and became a human. This was a blunt and blatant demonstration of God’s personal nature. God, who became flesh, existed in human form, experienced the common events of humanity, and showed himself to be a personal God.
God’s personal nature was never something that exists simply in his infinite essence. God has related to humanity in human terms and language. Humanity speaks, even when silent. Our brains are formed around language, and we think in words, forming them in our minds with each conscious thought. Stunningly, some people are willing to acknowledge that God exists, but are unwilling to grant that he would choose to communicate to humans. It is a bit bizarre to think that a God Being exists – one who is infinite, one who is personal, one who is aware not only of humanity, but also of every lepton and quark in the universe, and one that certainly knows of humanity’s linguistic ability to relate to him, humanity’s desire to know him, and humanity’s semi-constant reach for him – yet this God would choose to ignore humanity? Is it as if the infinite and personal God has too much to do? Is he too busy keeping Saturn in orbit or spreading out the galaxies? Is keeping up with the leptons and quarks too taxing for him to relate to man? This certainly is out of character with the Biblical portrayal of the personal God. The Bible sets out the sensible observation that the infinite and personal God is not silent. He has chosen to reveal himself through his relationships with humanity in human language. God speaks.
It is from God’s speaking that we derive revelation and truth. Truth is not simply an abstract term; it is a reality. The ultimate manifestation of truth is found in the incarnated one, in God made flesh. It is revelation that allows us to grasp what level of truth there is in the world. Man is no longer dependent upon the mind of man for knowing the truths of God. There are truths that the infinite, personal, and communicating God has revealed. These truths can be confirmed by the way they make sense of the world, and ourselves, but the truths themselves come from revelation, not mankind’s mental brilliance. In fact, our brilliance will never achieve the enlightenment of revelation. Our brilliance is useful for a limited scope of vision that, while it might seem wise to our own eyes, it is in fact foolish in reality.
Perhaps one of the ways we can best see the contrast between revelation and self- computed wisdom is in the area of good and evil. Appalling issues of evil in the world are debatable by those who do not access revelation. The evil of Hitler and the Third Reich was discussed in this sense. If God and revelation are removed from the equation, then a thoroughly legitimate and logical argument can be made that Hitler’s actions were actually good. Without God, the idea of eugenics, of refining the human race to those better suited to evolve into something more spectacular, something that might one day save the planet from its inevitable decay, can be a hard but brilliant choice. It can be painted as the difficult strategy of the chess Grandmaster who is willing to sacrifice a pawn or two, and even a major piece, in order to win the game and capture the other’s king. Killing the weaker elements to secure food and resources for the stronger ones who can better perpetuate humanity and propel mankind’s development can easily be cast as a solid “good” rather than an evil.
Here, the problem arises. We have a just God who is consistent and unchanging. He is infinite, and has no bounds in the sense of the finite space/time universe. He knows everything and everyone, down to their constituent parts. He is a personal God who has taken an interest in humanity, revealing himself through words and as The Word. Even as he has done so, he has shown himself to be a moral God, a God who has virtue and morality/ethics inherent in who he is. That same morality is built into humanity who is made in his image. We are a people who recognize moral right and wrong, so much so, that it seems a part of the universe itself. We know good and evil, but we do not always choose to do good. There lurks within every human error and failure to reach the purity of God. If his goodness is the target, then it is a target we all miss. This is not because we are predetermined to do what we do. We can really choose our actions. We have real moral responsibility for the choices we make. It means that even as the pure God seeks out relationships with humanity, humanity is unable to live to the standard of God’s nature and character. Perfection with God is not an option; it simply is.
Sinful man has no ability to live eternally enveloped in the presence of God. Cause and effect takes hold. Sin is a life decision that exists outside of God and God’s life. Sin is intimately bound up with death. Not simply losing one’s brain function, but eternal separation from God – a real eternal death. The opportunity for God’s purity has passed every person by. We do not have it in us.
This could be the end of the story, were it not for God’s provision and plan. Paul taught the Ephesians that through Christ, God was “making known” to the church “the mystery of his will.” God purposed a plan that in the fullness of time, he would “unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10). This was never a “Plan B” for God. As the God unlimited by time, it was something he planned before the foundation of the world. It was an act of love, to incarnate as a perfect man, yet to die a cursed, sinner’s death. This was not done capriciously; it was the solution to man’s immoral choices. It was a way that man as man, could find the release from the death man deserved for sin. The death of Christ was attributed outside of time to sinners. We say “outside of time” because that is the way of God. God operates in this universe, and in that sense operates in time, yet God exists infinitely, outside of the universe and outside of time. In this sense, God was able to pass over the sins of Abraham and others who died before Christ’s atoning death, crediting them with the forgiveness that came through Christ. Paul explained to the Romans that Christ’s death was necessitated because of sins committed before his incarnation. In this way, the death of Christ showed “God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom. 3:25).
How does this happen? How does this death of Christ have any application to a person? Here is the audacity of the resurrection. God acted outside of nature, outside of space and time, and resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead. He performed a miracle that would not happen short of divine intervention. After dying the sinner’s death, Christ was resurrected as the God of power he was from eternity. The grave could not hold a perfect man. Because of his faithfulness to the Father, Jesus had the power of an indestructible life. Death had no power over the One who was Life. This was and is the key for human hope. While we are human, we have an alternative to the death demanded by our sinfulness. We have a way into God’s purity.
Paul explained to the Ephesians that God, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him” (Eph. 2:5-6). The resurrection of Christ is the key for us. We are made alive with him. God acted out of his love for us, as Paul termed it “because of the great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). This is not something anyone earns or achieves on his/her own. It is God’s free gift enabled by the cross of Christ and empty tomb, apportioned to us through our faith and trust (Eph. 2:8-10).
This is indeed the work of a mighty God. There is nothing small about a God who plans and accomplishes such things out of his love for people. But one might ask, “Does it end there? Is this life all there is? Do we have any kind of confidence that the future holds anything concrete for us, or is it a lottery chance?” Paul has much to say about this as well. He explained in the same teaching to the Ephesians that the reason God has done these things is not simply to make us better people on earth. God raised us up with Christ “and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6- 7). The future is not a lottery; it is a destiny!
As a man, God showed himself in ways we would never see Him otherwise. God (Jesus) was not a super-mystic holy man who seemed ethereal and otherworldly. Nor was Jesus the same run-of-the-mill person we find on the street. He was a real man, but one of truth, goodness, and beauty (not beauty of appearance, but of character). Jesus exhibited the actions that correspond to those traits:
- He challenged the current values of those around him.
- He probed for people’s motives over simple focus on their actions.
- He insisted on real human values in the ways we treat each other.
- He endorsed the search for truth.
- He endorsed a love for all people.
- He suffered conflict with stale and false religion.
- He called people to God.
Jesus, big enough to cover our sins and promise a life eternally at one with Him, is true and real.
Today people might give lip service to Jesus and yet not confidently expect heaven or eternity. We suggest the following maxim:
If your God cares about you
Only in this world, and
Only in your life
Then your God is definitely too small
To find more on “Your God is Still Too Small, go to biblical-literacy.org/lessons/your-god-is-still-too-small/