“I just don’t understand God!”
The statement was deeply honest and completely foolish simultaneously.
My friend who was struggling with how things were unfolding in his life. He was absolutely exasperated that he couldn’t see two steps in front of him. He felt like God was messing with him…upsetting his apple cart.
As if God got pleasure from watching him squirm in frustration.
The underlying misconception was clear. He really thought he should understand God and God’s ways–at least as it pertained to his own life and future.
As I’ve considered his statement–and the many times I have shared the sentiment–I came to face this truth:
A God I can understand is a God I don’t need.
If I can comprehend Him, I can control Him. A God who doesn’t leave me scratching my head is a God who is my equal–or worse yet, my lesser. That God will do me no good when I face problems in my life that are bigger than I am or questions in my soul that confound me at the core.
When I put God in a box I put myself above Him…that means I have to deal with my life trusting a God who can’t deal with my life!
When I have the expectation that I will both comprehend and concur with God’s action in my existence I am forgetting that God Himself has told us: “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
I admit, I do not like this fact about my God. I don’t want a God of paradox who won’t live by my rules and fit in my mold. I want Him to play nice, play fair and in my case, play favorites!
But a God I can tame will never be a God I can trust.
Our friend and talented artist, Alyson Tucker, captured this unmanageable God in a vivid painting (seen above). It immediately captivated me when I walked into the sanctuary of the North Island Church where she and her husband, Mack, pastor. The image of the lion on the large canvas literally took my breath away. It seemed His intense eyes stared into my soul…creating both fear of His intimacy and faith in His mercy all at once.
A framed print of this masterwork now hangs over the piano in my home where my personal worship is formed. It is a constant reminder that my God is not a domesticated pet, but the “Lion of Judah” who ultimately and inevitably triumphs.
So much of the modern approach to God attempts to break Him like a horse–make Him tame enough to control with bit and bridle. We seem to desire a God more palatable to our lives and plausible to our minds. It appears we are trying to remove the shadowy mystery behind an unfathomable God in order to create a paint-by-number deity who fits our express desires.
Most of this reductionism does not come in the form of heresy–pictures of God that are totally wrong. It surfaces by simply summing Him up by part of His character, some of His actions or a bit of His nature.
However, a partial God is a small God…comprehensible but inadequate.
I started asking myself, in what ways do we dumb-down God? How do we shrink Him for pocket-sized portability?
- Seeing Him only through the contemporary. When our image of God loses touch with the historicity of God we get a skewed picture of Him as simply an expression of the values in vogue at the present moment.
- Assessing Him only through our limitations. By making God so much like us that He loses the “otherness” of a holy God, we transform Him into a weakened reflection of us instead of our becoming a developing reflection of Him.
- Filtering Him only with our pictures. If our construct of the universe and perception of reality become the boundaries and borders in which God is free to move, those limitations diminish the very powers we need Him to exert in our favor.
- Expecting him only in religious space. By setting up an artificial dichotomy between sacred and secular, we are confining God to smaller parts of our lives and leaving the majority of the daily to be feasted upon by the predators called mundane and mediocre.
- Embracing Him only in bits and pieces. Instead of seeing God through the prism of His perfections in which complexity and mystery make us truly better, we simply settle for one facet that makes us feel better.
God is beautiful and baffling; fascinating and frustrating; perceptible and perplexing; astonishing and aggravating–all at the same time. Too big to interpret and too small to ignore. Too far to reach and too close to resist.
After Paul wrote 11 chapters of the broadest treatise on God’s nature and work known to man, he exploded with a stunning doxology exposing his inability to understand or explain this God whom He loved. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)
- How do you comprehend One who is more here than I am but plays hide and seek every time I get anywhere near understanding Him?
- How do you grasp One who is utterly holy–completely different than us–who then makes Himself just like us so we be like Him?
- How do you handle One who is as tender as Mary’s lamb and as intense as Judah’s lion all at once?
My friend’s question was authentic and raw. Life deals us hands we don’t know how to play. Stuff happens that makes no sense and leaves us bewildered. That is real.
But taming God, domesticating this Higher Power we so desperately need, is not the answer. Let God be who He is.
Wonder-full. Power-full. Awe-full. Beauty-full. Fear-full. Just let Him be whatever-FULL.
Because when He is fully God, He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) Our only response to the mystery and majesty of this untamable God is to bow before Him in holy worship and live before Him in humble obedience.
“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”