Saturday, July 12, 2008

Our Image of God: How Big IS God?

In examining the image of God, I’ve gotten past the ‘Boogie Man’ phase to the, ‘So, just how big IS God?’ phase. We live in an age when BIG has somehow become synonymous with the status of success. BIG house with BIG garages to hold many BIG cars, SUVs and/or trucks, BIG wardrobe, BIG investment portfolio, BIG debts, BIG Mac with BIGGIE fries, BIG lies and legends; I know a man who always carries in his pocket a BIG roll of $1 bills encased in one lousy $100 bill so he can pretend to be BIG. The BIG house below was built not far from where we live; I would post pictures of this man's many cars, but it would take seven frames to include them all.
With all the BIGNESS that surrounds us, how do I even attempt to explain the size of God? To what or whom can I compare Him? HE is so GREAT and AWESOME; there is NOTHING we can compare Him to that our human minds can possibly grasp. The very fact than He created all of us and every other living thing, is either taken for granted or has become questionable amongst some ‘Christians’ and politically incorrect in today’s society. A great portion, (dare I say the majority?) of academia has tried, for many years, to de-bunk God’s creation of the universe, even though they offer no other proof for its existence. Theories? Yes. Proof? No. Right up front you should probably know that I absolutely believe creation happened exactly the way it’s described in Genesis; I need no further explanation. My faith in God allows me to believe this and it’s a core belief that’s neither flexible nor up for debate; I’ve already heard them all.

Today, many of our churches try to bring God down to our level so we won’t feel like the Lilliputian beings we actually are. It’s ‘the new and improved gospel of narcissism and good self-esteem’ that tends to ignore the fact that in comparison to God, we humans are the minutest of the minutiae. (More on that type of ‘gospel’ will come in a future post; I promise.) Several years ago, The Gaither Vocal Band came out with a song, “He Came Down to my Level.” Since I tend to like some country gospel, it wasn’t hard to adopt this and add it to my repertoire. It’s a real ‘toe tapper’ and an easy ‘sing along’ song. It is, in fact, a good song; but the title began to bother me as I watched more than a few fellow Christians treat God as a ‘genie in a lamp’ while at the same time displaying anything but Christian actions and attitudes.

Although the song is entitled, ‘He Came Down to my Level,’ it doesn’t suggest that God actually comes down to our level at all. The words, “With a strong arm He lifted me up,” are allegoric in nature with the author trying to paint a word picture we can understand. When and/or if we so desire, God sends His Holy Spirit down to lift us up; HE doesn’t come down at all. The words, “He lifted me up,” suggests that after God’s Holy Spirit, has lifted us up, we are to live on a higher level than we previously had. In visiting various churches I’ve witnessed some curious forms of ‘worship’ and sometimes come away wondering just who these people have come to worship. Even though we may have just sung, “Our God is an Awesome God,” are we even a tiny bit aware of just how awesome He really is?

There are many verses in the Bible that describe God’s greatness, but I’ll use only a few, (from the NIV version). Some of you may know these, some you may not. But with each one you read, please close your eyes, and with no outside interference, try to imagine, really imagine, just how majestic and enormous God is. Consider that His power is unlimited and His strength inexhaustible. In the 32nd chapter of Exodus, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, but Moses only heard His voice; the very voice that spoke the world into existence; he did NOT see His face. Upon descending the mountain and observing the wickedness of the people, Moses got angry and threw the engraved tablets to the ground, breaking them to pieces. When God gave the Commandments to Moses the second time, in Exodus 33, Moses asked God to show himself. In verse 18 Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” God replied in verse 20, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” From these passages, we know that NO person has seen God’s face. His countenance is so wonderful, so radiant, that to look upon it would cause sudden death. WOW!
The 40th chapter of Isaiah has many descriptive verses. Verse 7: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.” Imagine, if you will, the force of God’s breath and how just one of them can blow us over; ALL of us; at the same time. Here I’m going to insert an observation and personal opinion. There’s a popular televangelist who blows his breath on people and they appear to fall over. I have no idea whether he thinks he’s God or is arrogant enough to believe God would actually breathe through him, but someday he will experience the real breath of God and will be judged for his actions. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Going back to Isaiah 40, consider verse 12: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” Try to picture God holding ALL the waters of the world in ONE of His hands. They say at least 70% of the world is covered by water. Have you ever been in the middle of the ocean or even a large lake where you could see no land? Well, that would be just ONE body of water, and God can hold ALL the bodies of water in His hand at one time.

Continuing on; “Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” Can you conjure up an image of God picking up mountain ranges between His thumb and forefinger and then putting them down in whatever place He chooses? The largest mountain range, at 4500 miles, is the Andes in South America.

The highest mountain, which towers 29,028 feet above sea level, is Mount Everest, part of the Himalayan range. Mount Everest is located on the border between India and Nepal, and its ascent has been attempted by many, many people, whose adventure often ends in sickness or death. The cold temperatures and strong winds are bad enough, but the closer you get to the summit, the less oxygen there is; making it next to impossible to breathe.

Yet, God can pick up Mount Everest as if it’s smaller than a Hershey’s Chocolate Kiss.

Verse 15 says, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.” Look at a map of the world and consider the size of the nations; they are but dust to God. Then find the islands and know that He considers all of them to be even finer dust than the nations. Verse 17: “Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing.” 18: “To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare Him to?”
I love verse 22: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. 25 & 26: ““To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Imagine if you can, God sitting on a throne, above all the universe and we’re so small, we look like grasshoppers to Him.
He uses the sky as our canopy or covering and on a dark, clear night, all the stars we can see have been named by Him. And even though there are some we can no longer see, they aren’t missing because He keeps track of each and every one!

28: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will NOT grow tired or weary, and His understanding NO ONE can fathom.”

Now do you have a little better understanding or at least a better picture of how BIG and POWERFUL God actually is? And yet…... and yet…... look at verse 11: “He tends His flock, (that’s us), like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs, (that’s us), in His arms and carries them, (us), close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”

Referring again to verse 28: Do you not know? Have you not heard? Our God is an Awesome God! Nothing is impossible for Him; He can take nothing and make something. But as BIG and POWERFUL as He is, He is also GENTLE, and will carry us close to His heart; if we want Him to.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Our Image of God: Is He the Boogie Man?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word ‘boog-ie-man,’ (also boog-ey-man, boog-y-man or bo-gey-man), is a noun meaning ‘A terrifying specter; a hobgoblin.’

With that in mind I ask, “Is God bigger then the Boogie Man or is HE the Boogie Man?” You may think this is a blasphemous question, but hopefully, when you’ve finished reading this, you’ll know the answer.

The Veggie Tales characters sing a song entitled “God is Bigger;” here are the words to the chorus: “God is bigger then the boogie man. He’s bigger than Godzilla, or the monsters on TV. Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man. And He’s watching out for you and me.” Cute song with cute lyrics sung by cute vegetable characters.

When I was a little girl, my grandma used to keep us children close to home and scare us into coming indoors when it got dark by admonishing us, “If you don’t be careful, the Boogie Man will get you.” Often my cousins, brothers and I would stay overnight at our grandparents. After we went to bed, we’d sometimes look out into the darkness and imagine we saw the Boogey Man lurking around behind the chicken house, garage or water pump. In fact, we were pretty sure he was watching us all the time; especially when it got dark.

Some of the preachers of my childhood, including my father, tried to scare people into being ‘good’ by making ridiculous statements and trying to enforce manmade rules. In doing this, they made God into a Boogie Man who was stalking us, waiting to ‘get us’ if we did anything ‘wrong.’ This image of God was reinforced in our home, where our actions were micromanaged and infractions of rules swiftly dealt with in a not so gentle manner. At some point, my image of God merged with my image of my father. (The following image is not my father, and it's certainly not God. However, it may give you an idea of the 'mad man' whom we sometimes view God to be.)

It wasn’t until after Dad’s death that I fully learned of God’s love. Sadly, by that time, I was 43 years old, and most of my children were grown. During those years I had perceived God as a Boogie Man, He had actually been waiting for me to open the entire gift He had bought me long before I was born. I knew He had purchased my eternal life by sacrificing His ONLY Son; that part of His gift I had opened when I was very young. But due to the Boogie Man image of God that I had been taught and raised with, it took awhile to find the consistent, unconditional love that had been included with that gift. Instead of being anxious for a chance to punish me, He’d been right there, loving me and looking out for my well-being and safety. When I fall, as I often do, He’s always there to pick me up. He is my Loving Father; I am His grateful child. In fact, I’m sure He’s watching me ALL the time; especially when life gets dark.