- Book Reviews
- About me
Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
The Boxing of God (V)
May 30, 2007
In four previous articles, I have discussed the tendency of Christians to put God in a box of our own imaginations. Since it has been a few days since the last article, let me just review each of them really briefly before moving forward in this discussion (and before concluding this discussion).
In the introduction we looked at the apparent conflict between God’s revelation of Himself and our tendency to put Him in a box. We saw that while God’s revelation of Himself is always true, it is not necessarily complete. We then turned to three different areas of life where we tend to box God. The first was in our doctrine and we saw that God’s Word is not given to us so that it might restrain or contain God. On the contrary, the Word is given to restrain and contain us! In the second article we looked at Christian piety and saw the importance of never placing limits on God’s ability to act in and through us. And finally we looked at transformationalism and saw that we can limit God in our pursuit of evangelizing the lost. Always we need to realize that when we place God in a box, this box exists only in our minds, yet manifests itself in our beliefs, words and actions.
Today, in a short article, I would like to conclude this series by suggesting the consequences we must face if we are to have too low a view of God—a view in which we inadvertently contain Him in a box.
There was a time in human history where men worshiped the moon. They saw the moon above them and considered it an awesome manifestation of the divine. And so they worshiped it, paying homage to it as a god. But as civilization advanced, men constructed instruments through which they could study the moon. They came to realize that it was merely a moon orbiting the earth. They saw that it was a giant, dirt ball that had no light of its own, for it only reflected the light of the sun. In the name of science, men were sent to the moon and walked on its surface. Like so many others, I have stood in line at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington to touch a piece of the moon, worn smooth under the pressure of millions of fingers. At this point we can say that the moon has been thoroughly demystified. We know what it is, what it is made of, and even know of its importance to the earth. When we gaze at the moon today, we do so with little of the awe and wonder of men thousands of years ago.
In this case it may be a good thing. The moon does not deserve our worship and it is important that we understand what it is, what it does and what its effects are upon the earth. But the same pursuit of knowledge that has led men to the moon has perhaps driven us to demystify God. God is not like anything else—a mere piece of the Creation that can be examined, understood and conquered. Yet this is a temptation we face in our pursuit of knowledge of God.
It is, thus, crucial that we maintain or rediscover our awe of God. Too many of us have reduced God to a predictable formula. People complain when their jobs are too routine or that each date with their spouse feels the same as the last. In the same way we can so easily begin to feel that God has become part of a boring routine. When we feel this way, it is probably true that we have, in our minds, placed limits on God’s character and His actions. We have somehow come to feel, probably inadvertently, like we have conquered Him.
So allow me to encourage you to seek to recover a sense of awe before God.
The first step to recovering this sense of awe is to understand that awe begins with who God is—with His character—rather than what He does (His actions). We can only know who He is by knowing and believing His revelation of Himself. What God has told us in Scripture is Truth, true Truth, and God desires and expects that we know it. There is no excuse for being ignorant of who He is. Yet we need to remember that this is not the complete picture. Rather it is the picture only so far as He saw fit to give it to us. There is much more to God than what the Bible tells us, but no more than we need to know at the present time. When we go to be with the Lord we will know and understand far more.
What I have come to understand is this: that we as humans cannot be in awe of what we fully understand. We lose the mystery of what we master. It is easy to be impressed by watching wild animals in their natural habitat, but there is far less to appreciate about them when they have been caught, stuffed and mounted on the wall. To continue with the analogy we used earlier, we no longer worship the moon because we now understand it enough that we have removed its mystique. So when we place God in a box, we see Him as far less awesome than He really is. When we catch Him, stuff Him and mount Him on the wall, we reduce Him to the level of a creature that can be fully understood.
And here is something else I have come to understand: expectations run contrary to grace. When we feel that we know exactly how God will, can or even must act we no longer live from grace. Instead we live in expectancy of exactly how God must act in a given situation. Yet God is not as predictable as the path of the moon as it orbits the earth. Read the Gospels; read the Old Testament and you will find multitudes of examples where God did the exact opposite of what people expected of Him. We must not allow our expectations of God to overrule our awe of His grace.
Thus my challenge to myself and to those reading this article and the ones before it is to ensure we have a proper understanding of God. We always need to remember that He transcends any concept or category we can use to define or contain Him. God is infinite and simply cannot be contained. He cannot be boxed. He cannot be conquered. Set yourself free by setting Him free in your mind. Study His Word, and discover anew the awe of God.