Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Immortal, invisible...

I've been re-reading JB Phillips' classic, 'Your God is too Small'. Such a small book, so simply written, and yet so full of wisdom.

At first glance, what he says may be obvious: we mustn't create God in our own image, or try to fit him into a box. We mustn't limit him to our childish preconceptions, we need to view him - and the Bible - through adult eyes. Yes, Jesus said we need to become like little children, but that doesn't mean we should be childish. Talking about God as our Father doesn't mean we ONLY see him as a father. Our earthly fathers may have been good, or they may have been terrible. Or even non-present. God is the ideal Father - all the best that is fatherhood - but he's so much more as well.

Philips divides the book into sections, starting with twelve common misconceptions about God, plus a few other lesser ones. I suspect that which one(s) we tend to adopt depend on our personality type as well as our upbringing. For instance, the first wrong idea mentioned is that of 'resident policeman'. The voice of conscience. Yes, God can and does speak through our consciences, but they need to be refined and flooded regularly with Scripture. Otherwise we can get quite the wrong idea of what morality is. Parents, propaganda, even sermons can convince the over-sensitive that all kinds of things are wrong which Scripture doesn't forbid at all. A child brought up by vegetarians may feel his conscience telling him that it's wrong to eat meat, whereas it's generally a personal preference. We probably all know of Christians who are convinced it's morally wrong to drink any kind of alcohol (ignoring the fact that Jesus and his disciples drank wine) or even to use musical instruments in worship (despite Psalm 150).

Then there's the reverse problem of those who are less sensitive, and convince themselves that harmful activities are perfectly all right - that the Bible is a bit outdated, that nobody these days expects lifelong monogamy or total honesty in declaring income for tax purposes. They don't feel any pricking of their consciences, so they assume their behaviour is just fine.

Our consciences are important, but they're not always the voice of God.

Another example is that of the 'heavenly bosom'. One of the great old hymns by Charles Wesley, if taken at face value, seems to imply that we should simply hide in God's arms when circumstances are difficult. Like a small child running to his mother, after being scared by a big dog. Yes, of course we can go to Jesus any time, and there is a contentment deep within that comes from knowing him. But we certainly shouldn't expect him to shield us from all that life throws at us. Christians through the ages have faced terrible situations, often painful death, because they have refused to run away and hide. We were promised life in all its fullness, but not that it would be free of problems or pain.

We will never fully understand or know God, since he is infinite. But we need to acknowledge this rather than trying to pin him down or see him in rational or human terms. He can speak through our consciences, but he doesn't always. He is our Father, but he's so much more. We can go to him any time, but sometimes he sends us out to overcome increasingly difficult challenges. He has existed for eternity, but he is not outdated...

'Your God is too Small' is not complex theology, but it's very thought-provoking.

1 comment:

Lynda said...

Thanks, Sue for this site - I find it really thought provoking and helpful.

Blessings from Cape Town