Your God Is Too Small

from Apr 11, 2018 Category: Articles

Your God Is Too Small is the title of the book written by J.B. Phillips, and in some ways, the expression reflects the problems that lay behind the plaintive cry of abandonment felt by Judah’s exiles during the sixth century BC.

Perhaps they thought that their circumstances were too complicated for God to unravel and fix. What they needed, therefore, was a reminder of God’s sovereignty and power.

Perhaps a subtler thought occurred to them: the suspicion that they were unworthy of God’s attention. How can the infinite God of heaven and earth be concerned with “little ol’ me”? My issues seem so trivial by comparison:

“And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God? (Isa. 40:27, NASB)

God seems to be dismissing me. My prayers are not answered but ignored and disregarded. It feels unjust, unfair, and unwarranted.

And it is this that the sixteenth-century Reformer Martin Luther was getting at when he made the accusation of Erasmus, “Your thoughts of God are too human.”

Unbelief is a withering sickness that ultimately destroys faith. And what is the remedy? Waiting on the Lord:

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. (Isa. 40:31, emphasis added)

There are many kinds of waiting.

There is the “I am waiting for my spouse, sitting in the car, the engine running, and he/she is nowhere in sight” kind of waiting. It is impatient, petulant, rude. Then there is the “dog lying by the front door, eyes drooping, body language indicating little or no hope that the master is returning anytime soon” kind of waiting. It is pitiful and sad.

There is also the “lover, listening to the words of a beloved partner, eyes wide open, gesturing surprise, amusement, love, and thankfulness, waiting for the next word to come forth.” It is anticipatory and congratulatory.

What kind of waiting is in view here? The word for “wait” in the passage cited above is sometimes translated in the ESV text as “hope” (Ps. 62:5; Prov. 11:7) and sometimes “expectation” (Prov. 10:28; 11:23). In this passage, waiting involves looking away from ourselves and our troubles and looking to the Lord in faith and with expectation. And not just looking, but expecting… trusting… believing. Taking a long, hard look at who God is: His character, His being, His Word, His promise, His commitment, His covenant, His unchanging determination to do what He said He would do.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isa. 40:28)

Isaiah’s prescription for this withering sickness of unbelief is a dose of God’s magnificent majesty, power, and glory. The promises of God are guaranteed by who and what He is. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the world and His people.

A single verse encapsulates what Isaiah elaborates on throughout the chapter. Exploring the character of God, Isaiah seems to be saying, “Look at Him! Take a long, hard look at Him!” And what will we see if we do so?

  • The Lord is everlasting—in the sense that He is eternal, outside the fluctuating contours of time and space. The same yesterday, today, and forever, because these expressions of time are perspectives that are all too human and creaturely. God is “outside” and “above” all these limiting dimensions. He alone has being in Himself (what theologians call “aseity”). The problem with man-made gods—“idols,” to give them their proper name (Isa. 40:19)—is just that: they are man-made. These artifacts may require the skill of craftsmen, but it is a craft of men nevertheless. The problem with human gods is that they do not actually exist. They have “being” only in the fertile imagination of sinful minds and hearts.
  • The Lord is omnipresent in the sense that He created “the ends of the earth” and no part of it is a mystery to Him. There are no boundaries beyond which He cannot pass. No dropped calls or dead zones where our voices cannot be heard or His voice cannot get through.
  • The Lord is omnipotent. He is the Creator who spoke and the universe came into being (Gen. 1:1). He calls out the stars each night and introduces them by name (Isa. 40:26). He does not tire or grow weary. His strength is infinite. He does not need to rest or sleep. He preserves in the face of all opposition. Strong young men grow weary, but the Lord does not (Isa. 40:30).8 And the Lord knows and understands this and compensates by supplying His people with His strength.
  • The Lord is great. So vast is the Lord that the universe and all it contains appears as “nothing… less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:17).9 All earthly pretenders (Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman) are but as “grasshoppers” (Isa. 40:22) in comparison to the Almighty.
  • The Lord is wise in the sense that He is omniscient and knows what to do with this knowledge to accomplish His good purposes. His knowledge and understanding are so vast that they are unsearchable to us. He is incomprehensible, and as Job did when he discovered this truth, we should put our hands to our mouths and be silent.

In one verse, Isaiah provides us with a magnificent portrait of God. As Motyer summarizes, “In one way or another the fourfold Old Testament doctrine of God the Creator is represented here: he originates everything, maintains everything in existence, controls everything in operation, and directs everything to the end that he appoints.”

Open your eyes and take a good, long, hard look at God:

Lift up your eyes and see. (Isa. 40:26)

There is no one like our God.

To whom will you compare me? (Isa. 40:25)

God is in a category all His own. And knowing this brings strength and vitality. It is not strength in ourselves that is encouraged here but strength in Him—in the sovereign, all-powerful, all-wise, all-sustaining, never-tiring God.

Are you weary? Losing faith in God’s promises? Tired in the heat of the battle? Overwhelmed by the opposition? Then what you need is a fresh glimpse of the majesty of God. Sometimes, we cannot see what is right before us and above us.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, there is a wonderful description of how we can be in two different worlds at the same time. In one world, there is Tirian and Peter and Lucy and Jill, friends of Aslan. And there is summer and blue skies. In another world, there is a company of dwarves, and all they see is a dark and dirty stable:

“Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.”… “You see,” said Aslan, “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

Which world are you in right now?

This excerpt is adapted from Strength for the Weary by Derek Thomas.