Your God Is Too Small

Romans 11:33-36

You may remember when the word “awesome” was the word for everything – everything was awesome - to the point - nothing was really awesome. The truth is, only one can truly be called awesome.

Over the last several weeks in our Life Journal readings, I’ve noticed a number of passages that have reminded me that my picture of God is much, much too small. I had lost sight of what an awesome God we have.

Back in 1961, J.B. Philips wrote a little book entitled, Your God Is Too Small. And the premise was that we have so minimized and confined God to our stereotypical images of God that we have lost our ability to imagine God as he really is. He wrote: “The man who is outside all organized Christianity may have, and often does have, a certain reverence for God, and a certain genuine respect for Jesus Christ (though he has probably rarely considered Him and His claims with his adult mind). But what sticks in his throat about the Christianity of the Churches is not merely their differences in denomination, but the spirit of "churchiness" which seems to pervade them all. They seem to him to have captured and tamed and trained to their own liking Something that is really far too big ever to be forced into little man-made boxes with neat labels upon them. He may never think of putting it into words, but this is what he thinks and feels.” (J.B. Philips, Your God Is Too Small)

It’s interesting to me that in so many areas of our lives we have grown by leaps and bounds, and our ability to think and function in our universe has expanded exponentially. Think of the leaps we have made in technology, in scientific discovery, in medicine, in education. And yet, in our understanding of God, we’re still like children who think of God as a glorified Santa Clause who sits around waiting for us to make a request – a jolly, grandfatherly type who never gets too upset about anything. It’s all about us – our world revolves around us – and God is peripheral – around when we want him, but irrelevant if we don’t. We stick him in a box and label him to our own liking.

Since the 1980’s Burger King’s motto has been “Have it your way.” And it reflects our culture’s demand to customize everything in our lives, from our wardrobe to our home décor, from our cell phone plan to our lifestyle. And so it’s not too far a leap to realize that we have done that to God. And we go searching for the church that will let us have God “our way.” And in turn, churches act like little God franchises, packaging God to appeal to the broadest customer base; or, going the other direction, customizing God to our specifications and telling people take him or leave him – we don’t care.

We think religion is about what we do in these four walls, and our concerns involve such minutia as whether we sing the old hymns or the new choruses, whether we start 5 minutes late or go 5 minutes long, whether it’s too hot or too cold, whether the pews are padded or plain, whether somebody claps their hands or lifts their arms. When we come to worship, we like things done decently and in order. We want 2 songs, a prayer, a song, and a sermon. And make sure we’re out of here in time to get to lunch before the rush.

And then I read Ps. 98: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music… Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.” (98:4,7-9).
Does that sound like decently and in order to you? Can you imagine the mountains checking the time, or the sea getting upset because the rivers are just too emotional? When’s the last time you worshiped with abandon? Can you remember being so swept up in praising God that you forgot yourself?

I’m embarrassed to say that there are times my picture of God fits neatly in these four walls, and that worshiping him has become so routine as to be boring. And God is anything but boring.

Which means – my God is too small.

I was taken by Paul’s doxology in Romans 11, when we came across that reading a few weeks ago: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom 11:33-36)

I read that and realize that God is deeper than I will ever be able to know – that for all my study and learning, he is unsearchable. I am ashamed when I think to tell God that he doesn’t understand, I am embarrassed that my requests are so centered in me. I’m worried about my image and my reputation, and then Paul writes, “To him be glory forever! Amen.” Paul says, it’s not my image, but God’s that matters. Only when I see God in all his glory can I begin to have a proper perspective of who I am.

In a passage we read just this past week in Isaiah 6, Isaiah found himself in the temple seeing God as he had never seen him before:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isa 6:1-3)

Isaiah didn’t look around and wonder what everyone else thought about him or how he looked or whether they were impressed that they were sitting next to Isaiah the prophet. Listen to his reaction: “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:4-5)

Only when you see God as he is can you fully comprehend who you are. And instead of puffing us up with arrogance or filling us with self-righteousness, it drops us to our knees in humility and repentance. Not in a self-loathing way, but in a way that God can truly begin to use us.

God had a conversation with Job, after Job had spent weeks railing against God’s unfairness and accusing God of mishandling his life, demanding a hearing where he could confront God. And then in Job 38 God speaks: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:2-7)

For three chapters God takes Job to task, confronting him with his own limited knowledge and experience, and then in chapter 42, a much humbler Job replies: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

It’s a dangerous thing to lower God to our level and to assume we understand his logic and rationale or to accuse him of not acting like God should act, or to demand that he do things the way we think they should be done. It was in Isaiah 55 that God said clearly, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9)
If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit there have been times we have questioned God (not that God isn’t big enough to handle our questions). But our questioning takes the form of an arrogant assumption that we know how God should think and act and it is our place to put him in his place (which we think is face to face and nose to nose where we can confront him as an equal). If that’s your God, your God is too small.

God’s knowledge and wisdom and power are so far beyond our ability to grasp that we can’t begin to presume to know better than God. Even though Paul wrote that God’s “invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen since the beginning of creation” we don’t have the capacity to grasp the breadth and depth of his greatness and glory.

And yet, the Bible tells us, in his greatness and glory, he loves us, and wills the best for us.

Illustration – Is he safe? I was thinking of that scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia when the children are asking Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan (who is C.S. Lewis’s figure for Jesus)

We like our God safe. We want to be able to wrap our minds around him, and in order to do that we reduce him to a set of doctrines and platitudes. And then we pick and choose among them for what suits us. We like “God is love,” we’re not too sure about “God is Jealous,” and we definitely don’t like “the wrath of God.” We like a neat and tidy package that we can understand and feel safe around. We don’t want a God who is beyond our explaining or has any shred of mystery about him. And yet that’s exactly the kind of God the Bible describes.

In the book of Revelation, John described his encounter with the Lord: I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:12-17)

That’s not exactly our picture of Jesus, meek and mild. This is Jesus mighty, powerful and eternal.

The writer of the Hebrews letter wrote: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” (Heb 1:1-4)

Did you hear what the writer said about Jesus? Not only was the world created through him, he is the one who sustains it (that means if for one second Jesus was to remove his sustaining care the universe would collapse in cataclysmic destruction). But his greatness goes beyond the physical dimensions of this world – the writer says that Jesus is also the one who has redeemed the world through his sacrifice upon the cross.

Illust – Field of Dreams – Doc crossing the line.

It is hard to imagine that the one who created the universe with a word, and who sustains the world by his powerful word, is also the one who clothed himself with human flesh, emptied himself of his divine attributes and submitted himself to the suffering and death of the cross. But that is exactly the God we love and adore. And that is the God who is worthy of all glory and honor and praise.

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