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Your God is Too Big

Your God Is Too Big

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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.

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Categories: Theology
  1. January 24, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Good post.

    I am a fan of philosophical theology, really more polemic theology because of the people I learned the most from. I do think there is a place for thinking deeply about the transcendence of God. But that is only half of the story.

    The incarnation of Jesus Christ firmly plants the God of this universe in this world. He is immanent. We can’t forget this. He lived in our world. He was not contained by it, but He was here. He is a part of our flesh and blood lives.

    That Christ is a faithful High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses is the only idea that keeps me going sometimes. He is right here with us.

  2. jstwndrng
    November 22, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Ryan,
    I enjoyed this though I didn’t expect to. Your post was suggested at the bottom of one of my own as something I “might also be interested in”. I’m a recovering fundamentalist, have little patience anymore for rationalist statements about what God thinks or how he likes his tea. But I loved the simple thought here that the Bible claims less of a headrush in encompassing an idea of God than we often are led to believe. That would be a relief for those who feel a need to validate their intuition through the Bible (I don’t). Your post is thoughtful and not hyperbolic. Bravo.

    @JK, I know the feeling you mention in your last line and I appreciate your honesty. Regardless of all the mechanics of sin, redemption, judgement, atonement, sacrifice, etc., (none of which ever made me a better human being) the man Jesus walks my road with me even in my doubt, fear, and apostasy. That’s worth everything.

  3. November 22, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Actually, the suggested post was your “gridded history” post. I read that, too, but then I clicked on this one to learn what kind of person I was dealing with. Have just skimmed a few more. I admire your spirit of fearless inquiry.

  4. December 12, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Matt (aka jstwndrng, for those who haven’t clicked throught the link to find out), I appreciate you stopping by. I’d love to chat more in the future if you have a chance to stop back.

  5. December 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Ryan,
    I’m frequently available, though not always in the mood, for conversations about this topic. I just reread your above post and it doesn’t lose anything the second time through. I love the idea that “bigger than me” is big enough, because really, that’s all I need in the day-to-day. I’m not worried about eternity. I sense no threat from God, toward me or to anyone else, in the hereafter. I fear the work I have to do today on earth, in my cubicle, and the relationships I have to navigate this week in my family and among my friends and coworkers. I long ago abandoned as pointless the silly riddles about God and I dwell almost exclusively at the nearer end of that spectrum – “how is God making himself known near me today?”. The “omni-” end seems to be only useful for argument and persuasion, which don’t interest me. It was refreshing to come across an intellectual idea from you that sort of “rhymed” with my more intuitive thought, if you will allow some fudging in the use of those terms. My most recent post about the pony deals with some of this. Thanks again.

  6. achrist
    November 12, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I really enjoyed this article, it makes some very thoughful and insightful statements. Perhaps one of the reasons it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage people in conversation about God (even among those who profess to know God) is because in a sense we have made God “too big”. There is one statement, however, that I would like to address. You find it amazing that the Bible never addresses the question of why God allows bad things to happen if God is all powerful and totally good. The prophet Habakkuk cries out asking why God neither hears nor acts to address human corruption and injustice. It is a question that cannot be covered in this blog but we cannot fail to address this issue as it is being asked by this postmodern world. It is no longer sufficient to expect people to accept evil without understanding the nature and source of evil. The scriptures, especially through the prophet Habakkuk, can help us with this stuggle.

    • November 20, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks for the comment, achrist. Good point about Habakkuk asking why God is not acting. But even still, I am concerned that we must not read Habakkuk as asking why the God, the First Cause, allows evil to occur in His creation; instead he is asking why YHWH, the Covenantal God of Israel, is allowing evil to happen to His chosen people. It’s a very different question.

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