Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Our God Too Big?

We evangelicals like to sing about how big and powerful God is. For example, here's the chorus of a recent song (just a couple of years old) that's been popular at our church:
Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome and power
Our God, Our God...
But singing about God in this way is not something new. Here's a song that was popular a couple of decades ago, back when I was in college:
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God
Of course, considering the span of Christian history, perhaps going back only a single generation isn't all that impressive, so how about this song, with lyrics written in 1715, that's been a mainstay of our hymnals ever since?
I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command, and all the stars obey
We sing these songs so often, these kinds of words become a part of our unconscious way of thinking about God. We become so good about talking about God's immense size and power, we can do so almost reflexively, like I did several years ago when I wrote the first part of what would later become my parody of the Hitchhiker's Guide series:
God is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big God is. I mean, you may have trouble wrapping your mind around the concept of transubstantiation, but that's just peanuts to God.
I don't think that there's anything theologically incorrect about these reflections on God's size and power, but Richard Beck challenges us to reconsider whether this focus has led us to forget other important truths about God:
This focus on God's bigness is often used in worship to create an acute sense of our smallness in relation....

...I wonder about all this. Particularly from a missional perspective. Specifically, I struggle with how the felt sense of smallness I experience in worship is supposed to transition into Christian mission. I do see how an acute sense of our smallness works as a trigger for ecstatic worship, but find it hard to see how that sense of smallness helps Christians learn to eat with tax collectors and sinners.

Put bluntly, I'm wondering this: How does an experience of God's awesomeness help you learn that God is love?

In light of this, here's what I want to say to many Christians: Your God is too big.
I think Beck may be onto something here. While God is indeed "transcendent," bigger and more powerful than anything the human mind can imagine, the great claim of Christianity is that God is also "immanent," entering into our universe in the form of Jesus Christ. If we lose sight of how God chose be revealed in the form of a human being, and how that human being demonstrated God's power through dying, the ultimate form of weakness, haven't we lost the most important part of our faith?

If we perhaps need to rethink the focus of the songs we sing about God, perhaps we can take a cue from the apostle Paul, who, when writing to the church at Philippi, quoted a bit of a hymn that was popular back in his own day:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.

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