J. B. Phillips, a British minister in the last century, wrote a book, Your God Is Too Small. I read it years ago and recall being impressed by it, though I don’t remember the particulars in it today. Rather it was the title that caught me. Whatever our view of God, he is vastly too small!
Indeed, as I travel around the Christian world I find miniscule versions of God being promoted. What kinds of tiny Christian Gods, you might ask? Let me suggest a few.
There is the fire insurance God. His greatest concern is to find as many policy holders as possible. His premiums vary, depending on the Christian community that sells his policies, but the payments are usually behavioral: mainly church attendance, a monthly tithe, and a midweek Christian book discussion or prayer group are the cash he requires. This is a pragmatic God, with pragmatic followers. For policy holders the real ambition is to avoid the fires of hell—a negative goal—rather than to know and enjoy God above all else. What God gets out of this arrangement isn’t clear but he seems to be a bit needy, looking for as large a following as possible. Lower premiums are always possible if an additional follower or two can be coaxed into the community that way.
Another much rarer version of God is the brainiac deity. His greatest capacity is intelligence so that his ideas and doctrines are great, complex puzzles. He invites chess champions, debaters, and logicians to compose and compare doctrinal statements about him. He is altogether different to the fire insurance version of God in that he is more interested in compelling ideas than in numbers of followers. His audiences are small but impressive, even if most of what they do is talk and write. Access to this God comes through Christian versions of the Mensa Society—churches, parachurch groups, and theological centers that elevate intellect over practice; a knowledge about God over a love for God and people.
Still another small version of God is the self-absorbed deity. He can think only of himself and wants everyone else to think only of him. The biggest fear for this God is what philosophers call “contingency”—that he is not fully in charge of everything but in some manner has a real involvement with his creation. If, for instance, he actually loves his creatures in a way that causes him to respond to them, he has somehow lost his mojo and is less than truly God. Instead he wants glory at any cost. Access to this God is virtually impossible because we are products of his will and live downstream from his first decrees and plans—a bit like dominoes that are now being tipped over by other dominoes, all started before the creation. He looks on with some sort of pleasure because everything is under his glorious control and control is his greatest ambition.
One additional, and final, version of a miniscule God is what we might call a stubborn Genie. He has a bag of tricks and powers to tease us—offering promises to heal us, to make us wealthy, to make us wise, to make us more powerful—but we first have to learn how to rub him right. What kind of rub is needed? At a minimum he looks for effort from his followers, real effort! Disciplines, devotions, tasks, duties, and best-efforts are needed. Accountability is the name of his game: the harder we work, the more likely it is that we can finally coax a benefit or two out of him. Some seem to get more out him than others, so he is not a very fair God, but ours is not to question him but to keep rubbing the jar of his being and to hope for the best.
Now let me make a confession: I have these false versions of God myself, and even other distortions. Faith for me tends to be an oscillation between bad habit versions of God and the true God I see portrayed in the Bible! So this is not an exercise of finger-pointing but of invitation. The invitation is for us all to open our hearts to let God be truly God to us—in the terms that he reveals to us in his Word. Let us pray to have the eyes of our hearts opened by the Spirit so that the character of the triune God is magnified—made much larger—in our spiritual vision.
This need was reawakened in me as I was reading Matthew and Mark this past week. What jumped off the pages is that Jesus was regularly stretching the boundaries about himself—of who he is as the Son of God—again and again by all that he said and did. The apostles were clueless again and again as Jesus worked to enlarge their vision of him and his Father. He startled them by healing the lame, the blind, the deaf, the speech-deprived, and the demonized. He showed his power over the weather, over the sea, over demons, and over death. He forgave sins and he confronted sinners. Yet again and again his disciples misjudged his purposes and capacities—always seeing him as someone less than he really was . . . and is.
So how do we come to see God in his real size? The answer is, by keeping the eyes of our hearts open!
One way to do this is to thank God in every experience of life for being our God. Thank him no matter what happens to us! The point is this: he really does run the universe! Even Satan is on his leash so that even evil is God’s resource for accomplishing good in the lives of those who love him (see Genesis 50:19-29; Job 1; & Romans 8:28).
Another way is to seek him above every other ambition in life. God is the source of all that is, and there is no other proper priority in “all that is” than to know him. That is, we must never descend into the worship of the creation, but are to find our joy in the Creator. Given that he invites us to love him with all that we are and have, then that ambition is appropriate to the way God made us. Even at a human level it is only when we love someone that we begin to see their beauty and delightful qualities with open eyes. The same is true of knowing and loving God: he gets bigger and better by the moment once we start to gaze in his direction!
A final suggestion for having our vision of God stretched is to listen carefully while we gaze at him. My reading in this past week took me back to the parable of the soils. What was sown, Jesus told his disciples, was “the word” and that word had a variety of responses. Sometimes it was taken away by the enemy. Sometimes it failed to take root. Sometimes it was choked out. And sometimes it bore fruit. The reality of our present age is that God’s word is readily available to us. To get a proper view of God we need to read, to respond, and to worship.
So, given that God is infinite and we are finite, Phillips’ book title will always be true for us: our God is too small! But some of us will acknowledge that as a problem we want to address. So even if many around us are busy with the world and are having that word choked out or lost, let’s go forward with an ever-greater and more compelling God. I know he’ll be pleased and will show us more of himself than ever before!