One of our many shortcomings as Christians is our habit of reducing and compacting God into a more manageable size we can comprehend and try to manipulate. One of the things the Old Testament Jewish nation had in spades over believers in the 21st century was an acute awareness of the unrestricted immensity of Yahweh. Irenaeus, a student of the Apostle John, wrote, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive and the life of the human being consists in beholding God.” The Hebrews had a word for God’s glory – kabod – and it contained multiple concepts and meanings in its five letters. Its central connotation was to indicate that something had substantial weight. Back in the 60s and 70s even the most tripped-out space cadets of the counterculture would frequently label anything spiritually substantial or thought-provoking as being “heavy, man.” Another meaning referred to vast material wealth. When the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream He told him, “What you have not asked I will give you, too, such riches and glory [kabod] as no other king ever had” (1 Kings 3:13). Thus the word can denote someone of extremely high rank, status, prominence and power. The Jewish people had no trouble picturing God Almighty as being an enormous entity that far exceeded their ability to all but partially grasp. They figured any God who could part a 220 mile-wide sea with His breath, hold its tonnage of water in check and blaze a dry path through it deserved to be deemed unimaginably BIG.
But the word big gets tossed around so casually these days it’s hardly an appropriate term to use in referring to the awesome omniscience of God. We say, “You’re giving me a big headache” or “This game Saturday is big” or “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” Yet in the field of astronomy big is still really BIG. The closest galaxy to our Milky Way is Andromeda. It’s 264 trillion miles from earth. Advocates of the Big Bang theory think the universe erupted from a tiny spot 79.8 quintillion miles away in an explosion of immeasurable force. They postulate in the first millisecond following that event all matter boiled in a massive cauldron at 40 billion degrees Fahrenheit. These measures of bigness boggle the mind of even the brightest of brainiacs yet they’re miniscule in comparison to God. Our feeble attempts to contain Him are laughable. An old joke goes like this. A comedian was granted an audience with the Heavenly Father. He asked, “God, is it true a thousand years is but a minute to you?” “You are correct, my man,” answered God. The jokester then asked, “And is it also true that a billion bucks of our money is but a penny compared to your wealth?” “Bingo,” God responded. The man then extended his upturned palm and said, “Then how about lending me a penny?” God chuckled and smiled. “No problem. Just give me a minute.”
Yet another meaning of kabod is one we can most readily relate to. We’ve all learned we can’t live without the sun but we also know if we were to stare directly at it with the naked eye we’d fry holes in our retinas. Accordingly, the glory of God is a light so brilliant we can’t see Him because of its intensity. When Moses asked to see the great I AM’s face he was turned down flat. God said to him, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Evidently God’s radioactive-like essence makes unshielded plutonium seem about as lethal to humans as Play Doh in comparison. Moses was permitted a peek of God’s rear end after He passed by but he got no more than a quick glimpse. Fridolin Stier, in reference to that episode, said, “That is the apex, the ultimate, the extreme allowed to any theology, any philosophy and any scholarship: the back of God – provided they really desire to see His face.” God obviously knows something we can’t seem to wrap our diminutive heads around. His holiness, His power and His grandeur is simply too much for mortals to bear. Little wonder the majority of folks who experience near-death episodes report being drawn toward an incredibly bright light.
All this makes the kabod of Jesus even more astonishing. The same God whom a man or woman can’t look in the eye without being immediately incinerated was somehow able to inexplicably incarnate Himself into a gentle, kind, non-threatening and very approachable human being. Christ’s radiation doesn’t kill, it heals. Jesus’ light is comforting and warm. He announced, “I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness” and “…I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:46-47). In other words, God was big enough to make Himself small enough for us to comprehend His magnificence and the truth we needed to hear. Jesus was the acme of God’s unimpeded omnipresence. Brennan Manning wrote, “He is more than a superior human being with an intellect keener than ours and a capacity for loving greater than ours. In His divinity Jesus is inexpressibly Other, absolutely incomparable.” In Colossians 1:15-17 Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.” Christ envelopes the entire universe and beyond. He’s too big to fail. He defies description. “Jesus will always be a scandal to the murky, immodest theory-making of the intelligentsia, because He cannot be comprehended by the rational, scientific, and finite mind,” Manning quipped.
Even God’s Holy Word must revert to employing the technique of analogy when broaching the subject of the great I AM. The Scriptures must utilize everyday concepts humans can assimilate when it speaks of God else we’d have no point of reference. In reality there’s a radical dissimilarity between what we are and who God is that can’t be reconciled by even the best of poets or wordsmiths. In heaven, as spiritual beings, we’ll be better equipped to acknowledge and appreciate His immaculate glory but the bottom line will still remain intact – He is God and we never will be. Here in the Lone Star State we sarcastically proclaim “Everything’s bigger in Texas” (although some in other parts of the country don’t get the joke). However, in the cosmic realm the unadorned truth is that “everything is bigger when it comes to God.” Take love, for instance. We naturally associate divine love with familial or romantic love. The adoration I have for my wife and offspring induces me to think I’m coming nearer to understanding what’s meant when I’m told God loves me. It’s the closest correlation I can come up with but when I contemplate my innocent Savior hanging on the cross, shouldering every one of my ugly sins, the Holy Spirit living within me gently whispers that God’s love is infinitely more profound than I can fathom. Not because of my limitations but because of His lack of them. I can’t savvy how stone deaf Beethoven composed his ingeniously complex yet emotion-tugging Ninth Symphony but my enjoyment of it isn’t contingent on my comprehension of how he accomplished that feat. Michelangelo sculpted the intricate, inspiring Pieta that stands in St. Peter’s Basilica and, though I have no clue how he somehow carved it out of a large chunk of Carrera marble, I can nonetheless marvel over it. That’s how I feel about God’s bigness. Timothy Keller wrote, “In the presence of great art and beauty we inescapably feel there’s real meaning in life, there’s truth and justice that will never let us down, and love means everything.” Keller goes on to concede secularists will stubbornly insist and argue truth and justice, good and evil, etc. are no more than illusions till the cows come home. Then he added, “But in the presence of art or even great natural beauty, our hearts tell us another story.”
In a sense, the way to trust God more is by letting go of our preconceived notions of Him that inherently set boundaries on what He can do for, with and through us. We all, to one extent or another, have a degree of fascination with unsolved mysteries so why can’t we be satisfied to let the Creator of all there is be supremely mysterious? The other night my lovely wife and I enjoyed what may turn out to be the last red-tinted lunar eclipse we’ll witness this side of heaven. It was surreal and I stood in slack-jawed awe of God’s symmetry and precision in conducting the instruments of the cosmos. I don’t know how He manages it and wouldn’t understand the physics involved if He took the time to map it all out for me in a power point presentation. I’m good with it, though. His impenetrable majesty doesn’t make me feel thick or ignorant. Rather, it delights me. At times like that when He nudges the sun, our planet and its moon into position as if they’re round pieces of wood on a checkerboard I’m happy to simply smile and watch His glory unfold for the whole earth to see. The Apostle Paul spoke of how the Spirit of Jesus removed the veil of the Old Covenant, freeing all believers to uninhibitedly take in the full kabod of Christ without trepidation or fear. 2 Corinthians 3:18 states, “And we all, who with unveiled faces reflecting the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Why do we Christians seldom rejoice in the fact that our faces are actually capable of mirroring the light of Jesus into a darkened world? Is it because we can’t rationally explain how such a thing is possible and we’re intimidated by the mystery involved? Manning wrote, “…mystery is an embarrassment to the modern mind. All that is elusive, enigmatic, hard to grasp will eventually yield to our intellectual investigation, then to our conclusive categorization – or so we would like to think. But to avoid mystery is to avoid the only God worthy of worship, honor and praise.” To that I’d add the only God we can trust, as well.
There comes a point when even the wisest of men and women are humbled by the bigness of God. Solomon’s Book of Ecclesiastes is an exposé on how unproductive it is to rely on ourselves and what this world offers for fulfillment instead of surrendering our lives to doing God’s will and, in the process, receive everything we need. Eugene Peterson wrote of Ecclesiastes, “It’s most emphatically and necessarily in the Bible in order to call a halt to our various and futile attempts to make something of our lives, so that we can give our full attention to God – who God is and what He does to make something of us. Ecclesiastes actually doesn’t say that much about God; the author leaves that to the other 65 books. His task is to expose our total incapacity to find the meaning and completion of our lives on our own.” Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians ever, experienced a “Solomon moment” late in life when he confessed, “I can write no more for everything I have written is straw.” He, like many of us, caught a sideways glance at the bigness of God and was stunned into reverent silence. So how do we deal with a deity so gigantic and powerful we’re restricted to viewing His backside only and still trust in Him as a child trusts a loving parent? There’s two ways to go: (1) We let go of our own understanding, forget about seeking self-gratification altogether and humbly bow in quiet wonder and adoration to honor His life-giving generosity or (2) we can become overwhelmed and terrified as we gaze into the dark abyss that is our repulsive sinfulness creating a chasm between our kingdom and His and retreat into the false safety of an atheistic or agnostic mindset. Those who go with the first option find God’s colossal, inconceivable love for us to be the unbreakable bridge that connects our dimension with His and all we have to do to cross it is to mumble the tax-collector’s prayer in Luke 18:13, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Consider that, because of God’s bigness and our littleness, our Heavenly Father may often find it hard to communicate with us one-on-one. In Isaiah 55:8-9 He admits, “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds, for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans.” In today’s world we’ve come to expect a prompt if not instant answer to almost any question we may ponder by typing it into a search engine. But God isn’t beholden to technological breakthroughs and conveniences. He insists on us practicing patience. Manning wrote, “The scandal of God’s silence in the most heartbreaking hours of our journey is perceived in retrospect as veiled, tender Presence and a passage into pure trust that’s not at the mercy of the response it receives.” One of the traps a newly-converted Christian can unwittingly fall into is, due to their enthusiasm for and subsequent engulfing of all the Scriptures, sermons and devotionals they can get their mitts on, they start thinking they’ve got God down pat. But He’s too big to have “down pat.” In one of my favorite Don Henley songs, “The Heart of the Matter,” the gifted crooner sings an honest, applicable line; “The more I know, the less I understand…” Once a believer accepts that gaining complete spiritual truth will always be both enticing and elusive we’ll find trust and faith to be the only constants we can claim to possess.
So how do we go about beholding such a big God? How do we even attempt to contemplate His glory, His kabod? We do it by imitating, to the best of our ability, His Son Jesus Christ. When words fail to convey our astonishment our actions and attitude towards others speak volumes. Silence can, indeed, be golden. Reading the Holy Word every day (as well as meditating on and mulling over what God tells us through Scripture) will inevitably render us reverently speechless in our admiration for our Lord and Savior. Pere Sertillanges wrote, “Adoration is nonentity swooning and gladly expiring in the presence of Infinity.” If we don’t refrain from ascribing to God our animalistic emotions, opinions and feelings about ourselves and others we’ll end up entering the realm of absurdity. We’ll start visualizing God as petty, unstable, fickle and obsessed with extracting revenge – everything we can often be but He never is. Only by stepping back and reacquainting ourselves with His Otherness, His bigness, will we recognize those mistaken attributes for what they are – woefully anemic and ridiculous human constructs. That same acknowledgement should also demolish any notions we may harbor about us having any control over what tomorrow will bring.
In the final analysis, the titanic size and scope of God’s glory should make us own up to our fundamental vulnerability and solidly reinforce our sense of being wholly dependent on our Maker’s goodness. By worshiping Him we accept our condition of being created entities. And, by dispossessing our conceited egos, we relinquish the illusion of control and become more transparent to both God and our neighbors. While our minds want to rebel against the ordinance that prohibits us from being given anything other than a brief, incomplete, out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye snippet of the great I AM’s tailbone the voluntary forfeit of that insistence and the full embracing of God’s kabod bolsters our sometimes fragile, paper-thin trust. Manning expressed that in doing so we awaken our awareness that “Something is afoot in the universe; Someone filled with transcendent brightness, wisdom, ingenuity, and power and goodness is about. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, somewhere deep down a Voice whispers, ‘All is well, and all will be well.’” The miracle of it all lies in the fact that God’s comforting assurance has been made freely available to people of all ages, races, colors and nationalities through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Yes, God is BIG. But His unconditional, mercy-filled, generous love can fit comfortably inside even the smallest of hearts.