I must admit I’m a bit of a fan of Apple technology. I’m not so addicted that I have to possess every new piece of equipment they create – I don’t own an i-pad for example – but I am a fan of their creations. I admire their simplicity, their creativity and sheer audacity, which is implicit in everything they do. They have such imagination and are often the innovators and trendsetters in their field, much like I’ve often advocated Christians need to be every field, which is a whole other blog post.
The truth though is that I can’t get my i-phone out and try to get it to comprehend me, or understand me fully. It might know a lot of facts about me – it knows my Facebook friends, Twitter followers, websites I’ve visited, stuff I’ve written, phone numbers of friends and family, and personal details like my address – but it doesn’t understand me completely and cannot explain or understand the depths of my soul, my emotions, what makes me weep, and the complexities of why I do what do, have the friends I do or how I work inside and out, on any more than a factual level. It cannot comprehend the depths of me. I mean, we’d think someone stupid if they asked their phone or computer to understand the depths of their soul wouldn’t we?
Now, the i-phone is a created object. We designed and created it, and so have set the boundaries within which it can work. We have boundaries we have to work within and which limit us, some imposed on us, some of our own choosing. So by definition, as we have defined the boundaries within which the phone works, it’s never going to be able to break those boundaries.
It might work hard, it might try to expand and grow, but the phone on its own is very limited, and there’s only so much it can do.
Human beings have spent thousands of years trying to understand the mystery of God. Great theologians have come and gone, and come up with new and fresh understandings, we’ve had the Bible interpreted and re-interpreted countless times and it has had a profound affect on our values. We have used our imagination to come up with images – through words, pictures, songs, and poetry, to describe God and try and understand Him.
All of these things can point us towards God, and connect us to Him, and bring us into deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. All of these things are good in themselves and helpful in us going deeper with our creator and understanding Him better.
But there is always one simple problem.
We are God’s creation.
We didn’t create Him, He created us.
We are all, essentially, creations of His imagination.
We have come from the deep, overwhelming, incomprehensible imagination of a creator God. Us naively thinking we can shrink God down to a theory, a systematic theology, a doctrine or an idea is simply foolishness.
It’s not that these things are bad – indeed, they are all good. The Bible itself says to watch our doctrine closely, so those things are all important.
It’s not these things that are the problem. It’s when we make them a substitute for God, when in actual fact of course God is bigger than that. Much bigger.
He’s always bigger than whatever we come up with to comprehend Him.
One of the reasons I think the greatest pieces of art and literature endure are because so many of them are open to interpretation – and the reason for that is that ultimately anything we create is created through the creative impulse we are all given by God. That’s why so often you see people being spoken to or greatly moved by a piece of art, a talk or literature in a way the human who created it may never have intended – because God has taken that piece of created work and used it in the way He intended for a specific person, place and time, because it was from Him in the first place.
This is why religion is simply inadequate when it comes to understanding God.
Most of us have Facebook profiles, but I don’t think any of us would think or suggest that our Facebook profile encapsulates who we are completely. It says a lot about us, it even has words that we put on there through status updates and posts, it allows us to communicate with people a big part of who we are – but it’s not the whole story. There’s a lot more to a human being than a Facebook profile. In the same way, trying to put God into the box marked ‘religion’, is simply pointless – you might as well try to fit our personalities into an iPhone.
It’s not going to happen.
Religion & theology may tell us facts about God, give us rules to live by and help us frame how God wants us to live, it may help us come to a better understanding of God, but it can never fully explain God.
God is always bigger than the most complex theory, and the deepest imagination.
Because He created our minds and our imagination – and if you put the intellect and imagination of every human being that ever has, does and will live, all together in one super-human person they still wouldn’t even come close to explaining God.
By definition that brain is the product of someone else’s – namely God – imagination, so is limited by the boundaries set for it – much like the i-phone, and any mobile phone or technology, has boundaries.
The bottom line is, no matter how much you think you know God or know about Him, you will never grasp Him, know Him or understand Him completely.
A lot of people, more and more, think that they do. We human beings, no matter what we believe, often suffer one way or another from what C. S. Lewis called ‘Chronological snobbery’, a concept he spoke of frequently.
This concept at it’s core was an observation of human beings – that so human beings every so often come to a point where they feel they ‘know’ much more than any previous generation in a certain field, they have more knowledge, understanding and experience than any generation before, so they have the final answers, and the people who came before were naive, their theories or decisions don’t hold as much weight because they didn’t have the knowledge or experience we have now. He observed that when this happens we forget the lessons of history, thinking that we’ve already made that mistake, but we know more now and circumstances have changed, so won’t do it again and it won’t happen again.
Kind of like lots of people said after the end of the First World War – when it was the only World War, called ‘The Great War’ by people at the time because people thought that it was so horrible and there had simply been so much suffering that we’d learned all the lessons, we’d never make the same mistakes, there would never be another war like that again. Only to find ourselves embroiled in an equally terrible war in 1939.
I think more and more it’s happening with people’s attitude towards God. It may be that it’s always been going on throughout history, with every technological advancement, but I’ve certainly noticed it a lot in recent years.
We seem to be thinking as a culture that somehow because of scientific advancements and all we can explain about how the universe works, that suddenly we will be able to – or indeed can – explain the concept of God completely, and therefore dismiss the very notion of God in the first place.
Indeed people start to freely talk about and popularise notions that there isn’t a God at all and speculate that the world will eventually abandon ideas of God, and God is simply an outdated concept.
Herein’s their biggest flaw. That they think of God not as merely a concept, an idea, something manageable or explainable. Something that can be squeezed into a religion or doctrine, or something manageable by us.
In my opinion God isn’t a concept. He’s real. I mean there is a ‘conceptual’ idea of God, even of the God that I worship, the Judea-Christian God, but that’s still not God Himself.
Now I may not be able to perceive Him fully, as I’m one of His creations, rather than His creator, but I can still engage with Him and have relationship with Him. I can grow in relationship with Him and get to know Him more – both in relationship and in pure head knowledge. We all can to one degree or another.
However, most of the time He’s not just a concept to me – even if sometimes I treat Him as such. And no matter what science says about the universe, it still won’t make God redundant – in fact, for me it will be the complete opposite.
The bigger creation gets, the more we know about the universe, the greater God becomes. Because no matter how big our ideas about the universe, they still cannot and will never be able to encapsulate the majesty, greatness, nature and glory of God.
I’ve heard it said before, and it’s true. If we could understand God, we would be God. No one can fully comprehend God but God Himself.
The thing is, we shouldn’t feel the need to come up with a final definitive idea or theory about Him anyway.
We’ll never be able to fully grasp or imagine God, and we shouldn’t feel the need to. It’s good to want to grow in knowledge and understanding, it’s good to have basic principles to live by and its great to use our imaginations.
To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t want to learn more about God and get to know Him better. Indeed, Jesus said we would be blessed if we hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and Proverbs says to get wisdom and knowledge.
But we should never waste our energy trying to come up with some final answer about God – simply because we’re never going to have it. By definition as created beings we are never going to fully comprehend or understand the mind of our creator – but we can grow in a knowledge and understanding of Him, we can have intimacy with Him, we can grow in relationship with Him.
Instead, we should dare to trust that God is bigger than us, than our circumstances, our lives and all of time and creation itself, and through Jesus has made it possible for relationship between us to be restored, and let us use knowledge, theory and imagination in order to grow into a deeper relationship with Him, rather than trying to find some big final answer.
Instead of trying to find a finite answer, let’s explore, ask questions of God, learn about Him, spend time with Him and try to understand Him better – but without the burden or illusion that we’ll ever come to some final answer.
Because when you don’t have that burden or concept in your mind, when you realise that with God no matter how much you know you will never know it all and never stop learning, it frees you, it allows you to explore without the pressure of having to come up with some final, definitive answer.
So use your imagination, have no fear in exploring ideas of God and understandings of Him and coming up with new interpretations of Him, and use your mind, don’t be afraid to ask questions of Him, to theorize and learn and try to understand Him better and wrestle with those questions of life.
One thing that is often lost as we move into adulthood is our imagination. There’s something about a child’s imagination that is almost irresistible – and Jesus says we are to be child-like in how we approach God. Maybe one of the things He is saying is that we need to allow our imaginations more freedom – within moral, ethical and Godly boundaries of course – to explore and understand more of who God is, to think about God and what it means to follow in a bigger, more imaginative way. To be more creative in how we live out our faith and how we engage with God, and more imaginative in how we think about God.
I believe God wants us to wrestle with Him, to engage with Him, to ask questions and explore, and in the process we build relationship with God. It’s in those times, as we wrestle and explore the deepest questions of life – often in the more difficult times as much as the good times – that real growth can happen and we can really meet with God.
We see this in the book of Job – Job is wrestling with God, wanting answers, engaging with God – but he’s wanting the big answers, the final answers.
Until God comes and speaks to him, and humbles him. This is what God says, in Job 38: (starting at verse 4):
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?”
This is just awesome – and it’s only part of what God says. He continues in this vein for another chapter at least, I would encourage you to go and read it, it’s absolutely incredible. I’m in awe simply sitting here reading it in front of my computer.
One thing I think that’s important to our discussion, and that I really love, is this almost mocking tone to Job, ‘surely you must know, because you were already born!’ God says with more than a hint of irony.
God is basically saying here that it’s simply impossible to comprehend or understand Him, we cannot grasp the depth of who He is, His nature, character or love.
We can learn more about it, we can grow in knowledge and understanding, yes, we can grow in intimacy and depth of relationship, of course – but having the final answers about God and understanding Him fully – it’s simply not possible.
God is simply too big for us to ever fully grasp, no matter how much we know or how big our imagination.
He created us, not the other way around.
We originated in God’s mind and imagination, so there’s no way ours can comprehend Him.
And that, in one sense, should give us a sense of confidence and security – and He invites us to trust that, and trust Him, and partner with Him in His plan for our lives and for creation itself.
I think when we read a passage like that, Job’s first response in Chapter 40 sums up what our response should be perfectly. So that is where I end:
“I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”
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