When God is Small
When God is Small
In reality God isn’t small, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25; 1 Kings 8:27). Yet, we can begin to view other things as being much bigger than God. Downsizing or minimizing God has been a constant problem, even among God’s own people:
- Abraham was told “is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).
- Mary was told by the angel Gabriel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
- A man who had a demon-possessed son was rebuked by Jesus after the man approached Jesus and said, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:21). Jesus quickly reminded the man that the “if you can do anything” is not the language of faith, for “all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). The man immediately responded back to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (9:24).
In like manner we can often fall into a similar mind-set. We might say to ourselves, “Maybe God can help me with… but I am not going to get my hopes up”.
God is Small when People are Big in Our Eyes
This happens when we respect, fear, obey or stand in awe of the opinions or rules of men rather than what God has said, and this has been a common problem.
- “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out f the synagogue, for the loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43). Compare with John 9:22-23.
- This is why Jesus stressed the need to fear God rather than men (Matthew 10:28). Because when we consider the power, influence, importance, or threats of men bigger than God, we become slaves of men. We live the life they want us to live.
Now and then I will hear someone ridiculing a life of obedience to God as a religion of fear. Well, you will always fear something or someone in life. Just like you will always obey and serve someone, or you will always trust or believe someone. We are expected to fear God, stand in awe of Him and deeply respect what He says. Such a fear is very healthy (Psalm 19:9 “The fear of the Lord is clean”). What I have observed is that the further you move away from God and embrace the world (Romans 12:1-2), the more you become afraid of what other people think. The true religion of fear is not Christianity, rather it is the religion of trying to remain politically correct. “Can you remember times in your life when you said, ‘God is God – I will submit to His will?’ At those times other people have no power too manipulate, pressure, or control us” (When People are Big and God is Small, Edward T. Welch, p. 116).
God is Small When Circumstances are Big
It is tempting to argue that the present circumstances make it nearly impossible for me to live the Christian life. Yet, I never find God excusing people because of the circumstances. For example, consider the following comments in reference to Achan’s sin which is recorded in Joshua chapter 7 and alluded to in Hebrews 12:15.
So who was to blame? Was Israel and Joshua in the wrong for not having more safeguards to keep men like Achan from stealing? No. We live in a culture that tends to blame the wrong choices of individuals on the system. Notice that the only safeguard that God gave in Joshua 6 is the warning “do it and end up cursed”. God exposed the sinner; He did not expose a system that did not have enough safeguards. We live in a society that often overlooks the free will of the individual and focuses rather on investigations and coming up with more ways of preventing people from making bad choices, yet the truth of the matter is that all the planning, preparation, checks and double-checks, and all the training manuals in the world cannot overrule the power of one person’s decision to engage in evil. Let that final thought sink in, for at the end of the day, no one, whether God or man, can force us to make good choices, and unless our motivation is a genuine love for God, all the coerced choices in the world cannot save us, even if they were choices to do what was right (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
God is Small When My Desires are Tantamount
We live in a culture that is really into the idea of making sure that “your needs are being met”. Yet, what do I really need? Jesus reminded us that even our physical needs, like food, clothing and shelter (things that we really do need), must never be placed ahead of serving God (Matthew 6:32-33). Therefore, if I am not permitted to steal to gain food, then I am never allowed to place any “need” or “desire” in the place of obeying God. In fact, the more you think it about this is obvious. How many times have many of us had everything we thought we needed at the moment (full belly, beautiful day, surrounded by stuff, with someone who loved us) and were miserable!
“The problem is not that we desire love, the problem is how much we desire it or for what purpose we desire it. Do we desire it so much that is overshadows our desire to be imitators of God? Do we desire it for our own pleasure or for God’s glory? This explains why Christ is sometimes not enough for us… First, because my lusts are boundless; by their very nature, they cannot be filled (the eyes of man are never satisfied). Second, because Jesus does not intend to satisfy my selfish desires” (When People are Big, Edward T. Welch, p. 149).
I found this last comment very helpful, for at times we will run into people who say that they tried Christianity but it didn’t work for them. Instead of thinking there is something wrong with the gospel, we might ask them what they were trying to accomplish with the gospel. What were they expecting God to do for them? God can meet our every legitimate need, but Jesus never promised to satisfy our selfishness. The same writer observed that some people come to Jesus expecting Him to give us all that we want or claim we need, so we can feel better about ourselves, or so we can have more happiness, not holiness, in our lives. What this can sound or look like is:
- “God, turn my spouse into the person I want them to be (not necessarily into the person God wants them to be)”.
- “God, remove all my trials, make my life trouble-free”. Rather than helping me to grow thru trials.
- “God, give me enough money so I don’t have to worry anymore”. Rather than wanting to be content in whatever circumstance I am, and help me not to worry even now.
- “God help me find Mr/Miss right”. Rather than help me become Mr. or Miss right.
Needs that Often Get Overlooked or Misinterpreted
The need for forgiveness. We all need that! Romans 3:23
Self-esteem? On the one hand we need to have an accurate view of ourselves, yet I often find in Scripture that the common problem among men and women is not the absence of self-esteem, but rather of thinking of themselves too highly (pride, arrogance). Or loving themselves too much (2 Timothy 3:2; Philippians 2:3). In addition, I cannot think of a better book than the Bible if you are looking for a healthy self-image. For it reveals that each one of us is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), that all we do matters (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14), that God loves us immensely (John 3:16), and we can be heroes, and heroes for more than one day (Hebrews 12:1ff).
The reason I bring this up is because I never find God saying, “Well, this person sinned because they weren’t loved. Or they sinned because they had a poor self image. Or they sinned because their emotional needs were not being met”. In the Bible we encounter Cain, the builders of Babel, those who died in the flood, Pharaoh, the grumbling Israelites, Eli’s sons, Saul, Ahab and Jezebel, Solomon, David, the woman caught in adultery, Herod and so on. In all these cases their sin is never excused. In fact, in all these cases the person sinning is held responsible for their sin. Jesus did not say to the woman caught in adultery, “You need a better self image, rather He said, “Sin no more”.
The need for love? It is true that love is important, but it is easily to think that our overriding need is for another human being to love us. Let me remind all of us that even when we do find that person, such love will be imperfect, just like our love for others will be imperfect. I believe I would be justified in saying that more than needing to be loved, we need to love others as God has loved us (Matthew 7:12). In addition, all of us are loved immensely from the fact that Jesus died for us (John 3:16).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017