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Just over sixty years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a book in which he attempted to call out many of the common tendencies that he saw in the twentieth century to reduce God down to size. His book, aptly titled Your God Is Too Small, was an effort at presenting a clearer and more accurate picture of “the God who is there” (to borrow the name of one of Francis Schaeffer’s well-known works). More recently, J.I. Packer and David Wells have followed Phillips’ example and have called out contemporary misconceptions of God in similar ways. Wells, for instance, has argued that modern Western people now generally see God as carrying little or no weight in their lives. He is inconsequential, unimportant, and barely noticeable for most of us. Packer has even gone so far as to suggest that our time will be remembered, above all other times, as the age of the “God-shrinkers.” More than any other period in history, he says, our age has become convinced that God is irrelevant and insignificant. As Packer puts it, God is barely a “smudge” on the page of our secularized lives.

In one sense, these ideas are really nothing new. Ever since the garden of Eden, Satan has been seeking to convince each of us that we can “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). The clear assumption behind this lie is that you and I can actually be like Him. It is an explicit denial of the “Godness” of God, an obvious rejection of the Creator-creature distinction, and a glaring repudiation of the holiness of God (defined as otherness). To believe that we can “be like God” is to exalt ourselves and, at the same time, to reduce God down to size. Satan has been working that angle since the very beginning. So, we really should not be all that surprised when we see it at work in our own day and time.

Long before Phillips, Packer, or Wells walked the face of the earth, the Apostle Paul warned us about these things. He told us that sin would run its course in our lives and that, as a result, we would “[exchange] the truth about God for a lie” and would “[worship] and [serve] the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Rom. 1:25). Satan, according to Jesus, is a “liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He would like nothing more than for us to believe that we can “be like God.” He would like nothing more than for us to shrink God down to our size, to render Him inconsequential, unimportant, and barely noticeable in our lives. And it would seem that we have embraced the lie. In mass quantities, we have swallowed it whole.

But, as Phillips reminded us, the God of the Bible is not small. He is no mere lightweight. In the words of Mr. Beaver from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the God of the Bible is definitely not “a tame lion.” He is significant and weighty. He is exalted and regal. He is “high and lifted up; and the train of his robe fill[s] the temple” (Isa. 6:1).

God is inscrutable, and His wisdom and knowledge are deeper than the deepest ocean.

We see this emphasis on the weightiness of God throughout the Scriptures. We see it, for instance, in the book of Job, as Job struggles to understand God’s providence in his life. After losing virtually everything he owns and all his family as well, except for his wife, Job longs to know why these things have happened to him. He is, after all, a righteous man. While his so-called friends question his righteousness, God nowhere does. The Lord knows that Job is a righteous man (e.g., Job 1:1, 8, 22). He does not question Job’s righteousness; He questions the fact that Job is struggling in the first place. You see, the fact that Job is struggling with the providence of God in his life is indicative of a God problem. Job has lost sight of or, perhaps better, has never really known how big his God is. He needs to see that God is far bigger than his own finite wisdom and understanding and far mightier than his own finite strength. When the Lord finally responds to Job in chapters 38–41, He does so in just this way. He puts more than sixty questions to Job to show him his own finitude and weakness and, conversely, God’s majesty and strength. And Job gets the picture, too, because he responds by saying: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4–5). And, again: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6).

We see this same kind of reaction over and over in the Bible when people come face-to-face with the glory of God and respond by prostrating themselves in humility and reverent submission. When Isaiah encounters God seated on His throne, high and lifted up, he immediately responds by denouncing his own sinfulness: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5). Likewise, when Ezekiel experiences the glory of God up close, he immediately falls on his face to the ground (Ezek. 1:28). And when the Apostle Peter recognizes the majesty and power of the Lord in a very practical way in his own life, he immediately falls down at Jesus’ feet and cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

When Paul comes to the end of his treatise on the great and glorious doctrines of the Christian faith in Romans 1–11, he breaks into a litany of praise, which he introduces with the following exclamation: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (11:33). The point Paul seems to be making here is that he has gone as far as he can go in dealing with these difficult doctrines. He cannot go any farther. He has given us everything he can about sin, justification, sanctification, predestination, and the relationship between Jew and gentile. But God is deeper still, and His understanding cannot be fathomed. He is inscrutable, and His wisdom and knowledge are deeper than the deepest ocean. He truly is a big God.

Several years ago, my family and I hiked down into the Grand Canyon on one of our more memorable vacations together. It was the first time that I had ever seen the Grand Canyon in person. I can still remember the feeling as I walked up to the south rim and looked out over the expanse. It was absolutely breathtaking. It drove home two points to me at the same time: it reminded me of how incredibly big our God is and how incredibly small I am.

When we come face-to-face with the God of the Bible, when we look out over the expanse of who He is and we really see it, we cannot help but be overwhelmed with His weightiness and significance. And when we do, inevitably we will see how incredibly small and insignificant we are in comparison. It is an excellent antidote to the priorities and perspectives of the world in which we live—which is, as Packer called it, a world of “God-shrinkers.” But, more than that, it is only when we come face-to-face with the “Godness” of God that we will feel the full weight of our sin and gain a full appreciation for the cross of Christ, which sets us free from the full weight of our sins forevermore. God-shrinkers will never be Christ-exalters. They cannot be. They can only be self-exalters and promoters of themselves. And such is the condition of the world we live in.

Fear of Man and Failure

Jonathan Edwards the Pastor