Your God is Too Small, or: The Greatness of God, Pt. 1

UnknownIn this trivial pursuit world, a world full of empty selves who live their lives seeking one fleeting satisfaction of desire after another, God becomes a sort of divine therapist— anxiously waiting in heaven to give us whatever it is that we think will satisfy. The result of course will be disappointment with such an inadequate conception of God. As J.B. Phillips points out, “God will inevitably appear to disappoint the man who is attempting to use Him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort, for his own plans.”[1]

A culture of empty selves shrink-wraps the concept of God to fit its own hollow image—and then cries “foul” when such a “God” does not satisfy. As the title of J.B. Phillips classic book suggests, the god of contemporary culture is too small.[2] The antidote? We must begin to restore a vision of God as great. God alone is worship-worthy. God alone is worthy of our allegiance. And God alone can make us whole. Everything else is truly trivial in relation to the greatness of God.

God reveals His greatness to us primarily in two ways: through creation and through His Son, Jesus of Nazareth.[3] Consider first the created universe. Psalm 95 sings out this triumphant affirmation:

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. (Psalm 95:3-6)

From atoms to galaxies, our universe is one of many scales. To see just how incredible our universe is, imagine a rather common snapshot, taken from a few feet away, of a man and a women standing in front of a tree.[4] Next imagine the same scene, each time from a successively more remote vantage point, each exactly 10 times further away than the previous one. The second frame reveals a patch of grass on which they are standing; the third shows a public park; the fourth reveals some tall buildings (perhaps they are in central park!); next the whole city; then a segment of the Earth’s curved horizon. Two further frames reveal the entire earth – its continents, oceans and cloudy atmosphere. Three more frames show the inner Solar System, including the Earth orbiting the Sun; the next shows our entire Solar System. Four frames on (now a few light years away), our Sun looks like a normal star within a neighborhood of stars. After three more frames, we see billions of similar stars in the flat disc of our Milky Way, stretching tens of thousand of light-years apart. Another three steps away the Milky Way and now the Andromeda are revealed as spiral galaxies. Continue on another leap and these galaxies are shown to be just two among hundreds of others –outlying members of the Virgo Cluster. One further leap and it is revealed that the Virgo Cluster is itself a rather modest cluster among others. The final frame (on this obviously imaginary telescope) would reveal an entire galaxy as a barely detectable smudge of light.

Consider again the same snapshot of a man and a women standing by a tree. This time, imagine the same scene, now each frame zooming inward rather than outward 10 times. From less than three feet, we see an arm; from a few centimeters, a small patch of skin. The next frame takes us into the fine texture of human tissue, and then into the individual cell. Next, as we approach the limits of the microscope, we reach the realm of the individual molecule: the long, tangled strings of proteins, and the double helix of DNA. The next ‘zoom’ reveals individual atoms. From here on out, within the realm of quantum mechanics, things get a bit fuzzy. Still, substructures of the atom over 100 times smaller than the atomic nuclei can be investigated by studying what happens when they collide with other particles at extremely high speeds. Perhaps the fundamental microphysical particles are, as physicist currently suspect, little ‘strings’, on scales so tiny that they would require seventeen more zooms to reveal them. As the Astronomer Martin Rees points out, the above considerations “highlights something important and remarkable, which is so obvious that we take it for granted: our universe covers a vast range of scales, and an immense variety of structures, stretching far larger, and far smaller, than the dimensions of everyday sensations.”[5]

I would agree, and add that, for the Christian, a moment’s reflection on the vastness of God’s handiwork reveals His greatness. His greatness is magnified even more when we consider that God is not only the creator of the physical universe, but of all immaterial reality, including souls, spiritual beings, abstract entities (propositions, properties, and numbers, to name a few common examples), and so on. Our God is a great God, and when we consider his works, we are led, along with the Shepherd David, to praise and awe: “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2) The apostle Paul concurs, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20) Part of God’s purpose then in creation is to show us something of Himself—His greatness. In my next post, we’ll consider how God has revealed His greatness through His Son.

Here is a short video–consider the wonder of all the God has made:











[1] J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small (New York: Touchstone, 2002), 49.

[2] Actually, the title reads as follows: “Your God is Too Small.”

[3] Though of course, God reveals himself (not just his greatness) in a number of ways.

[4] This paragraph and the next are adapted from Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000), 4-6.

[5] Ibid., 6.

3 Responses to Your God is Too Small, or: The Greatness of God, Pt. 1

  1. Pingback: Your God Is Too Small, Or: The Greatness of God, Pt. 2 | Paul Gould

  2. Pingback: Is Christianity the Best Possible Story? | Paul Gould

  3. Pingback: We Are Shaped by What We Think Great | Paul Gould

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