Your God is Too Big
Your God is Too Small is a classic evangelical book of the 20th Century. But I want to suggest that for most of us, the problem is actually the opposite: our view of God is too big. What I mean is that our conception of God usually starts in abstraction and then tries to bring that abstraction into reality.
Who or what is God? God, we say, is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient – He can do anything, He is everywhere, and He knows everything. Some try to create a puzzle out of this God, asking questions like, “Can God make a rock so big that He Himself cannot lift it?” We can’t help but ask such questions because our minds simply cannot grasp what it is to be infinite.
If you decided to throw out all your exisiting categories of who God is, and start reading the Bible with no imported ideas about God’s infininty, it is amazing how long it would take you to get there. We learn that He has a name, Yahweh — or more accurately, since Hebrew was written without vowels, His name is simply written as YHWH. He walks in the Garden with Adam; He comes down as a heavenly messenger to visit Abraham and to see if Sodom and Gomorrah are really as wicked as the reports He has received; He rescues the Israelites from captivity and reveals Himself through storm and fire on a mountaintop. The Psalms too give us songs and prayers to this interactive God, not the God of infinity. God is not praised as omnipotent, uncontainable, or infinite. Instead He is presented as a mighty protector, shepherd, warrior, deliverer, savior, protector. You will be hard pressed to find the God of the philosophers here.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe God is infinite, omnipotent, and all those incomprehensible categories we ascribe to divinity. But this is where we should end with God, not where we should begin. Say, for instance, that you rejected the infinite view of God. You could pretty much read the Bible as is without losing too many verses. On the other hand, say you hold a Deist view of God, that God is infinite but does not interact with His creation. You pretty much have to throw the entire Bible out.
The problem when we start with omnipotence is that it colors the way we approach God. We ask questions like, if God is all powerful and totally good, why is there evil in the world. I find it amazing that the Bible never raises this question. Why? Because God is not revealing Himself to us as omnipotent but rather hyperpotent – very powerful. He is more powerful than anyone or anything else you could encounter. But He is never revealed as “the being than which no greater being can be conceived.”
To be honest, it is easier to be in awe of a hyperpotent God than an omnipotent God. An omnipotent God invokes intellectual wonder and a sense of distance, but seems ultimately irrelevant in our actual lives. A hyperpotent God invokes reverence and a sense of dependence on Him in our actual lives.
Omnipotence includes hyperpotence. But it seems that the God of the Bible prefers to be viewed in terms of the latter rather than the former.