7 Ways Christians Make God Smaller Than He Is
Everyone that has met with me in one of our church’s homegroups during the past year, can tell you that I’m obsessed with thinking about how big God is. (Think, eye rolls, and "we get it, God's super big, but can we still pass around the sign up sheet for snacks?!" LOL) It all started a couple of years ago when I read the book, Ruthless Trust, by Brenning Manning. In this book, he talks about one reason atheists reject our Christian notion of God is because we have made him “too small”.
He goes on to explain that physicists who were working on the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show!) were kind of freaked out when they realized that an outside force would have had to initiate the bang. So, the scientists were all majorly geeking because of the intensely scary thought of how big that outside force would have to be1.
As I wrestled with this idea and what it meant for me, I somehow came across Stephen Hawking’s thoughts about aliens (which totally relates!). If you don’t know who Stephen Hawking is, he is the brainy science dude that all of the other brainy science dudes look up to.
And Stephen says that if there are aliens out there, we should not attempt to contact them. Stephen has done some pretty cool studies about the universe and he understands that it is pretty freaking huge. Our univers is so vastly enormous that reaching another solar system would take technology vastly beyond anything we can even consider right now and any beings with this technology could not possibly value us as a species.2
As in, the aliens would need super smart mega brains in order to figure out how to get here and they couldn’t possibly value our little pea brains at that point!
As I pondered the significance of this for weeks,... somebody showed me a wildly inappropriate comedian, Bo Burnham, who for some reason* fascinated me. He was a bitter, swearing, thoughtful, funny young man.
In his skit, he sang a song from the perspective of God and he said, “You’re not going to heaven. Why the F*&%$ would you think I’d ever want to kick it with you? There’s a trillion aliens that are cooler than you.” 3
While I obviously don’t agree with Bo’s theology, (and as a Southerner, I can’t swear that much!), I did watch it several times and asked myself, “what valid points is he making about how I’m misrepresenting God?”
If you watch the clip, you are probably going to think, I’m the craziest person on the planet for thinking that…. but I honestly did.
I may be the only person in the world who has combined thoughts from Brennan Manning, Stephen Hawking, and Bo Burnham into a deep philosophy about God, but hang on, it’s pretty amazing:
Let’s start with thinking about the cosmos being bigger than even the brainiest of brainy science dudes can comprehend.
It makes absolutely no logical sense that a God who created the cosmos would care about us. Consider what Stephen H said about aliens. He was talking about beings traveling through the cosmos.
God is the creator of the cosmos. How could he care about our little pea brains and insignificant lives? And it makes even less sense to think that a God that created the cosmos could ever be impressed by anything that we do.
The idea of a God that big is super scary and it intimidates us. We can’t possibly understand all there is to know about him. In our attempts to wrap our brains around all of this, we make God smaller than he is and we become guilty of many of the things Bo said.
So after wrestling for a couple of years with my Manning-Hawking-Burnham philosophy of how big God is I have conveniently condensed it into this post-worthy list of 10 ways that we make God too small:
1. We are petty. I believe that when we really focus on who God is, it will give us a different perspective on much of the drama in our lives. (If you know me, you can remind me that I said this...and I will probably thank you...eventually!)
One of my earliest memories of Christian pettiness was from the church that I went to as a child. The members had a huge fight over whether or not they should put carpet in the sanctuary. (If you aren’t familiar with church culture, just know that people don’t like change!)
I was young, but I remember the drama and being very scared. I remember thinking that there must be something extra holy about church carpet since it was creating so much drama.
Turns out carpet is just carpet. In the whole scheme of things, it just seems silly to think a group of people could claim to be on a special mission from the creator of the universe and then get stumped by such a tiny little detail.
I think that is why Paul told Timothy, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs but rather tries to please his commanding officer” 2 Timothy 2:4 Since Timothy wasn’t a soldier, I’m quite certain that Paul was figuratively telling him, don’t get caught up in petty drama because you have more important stuff to focus on…remember you are serving a huge God!
2. We try to manipulate God. My family always laughs about the emails, memes, and posts that insist if you share them that God will bless you. If you think about the enormity of God, it seems quite silly to think that he would be indebted to us for such a trivial action.
However, most of us do something that we think God owes us for. The more self-reflective you are or the longer you have been religious, the deeper your manipulation may be buried, but I suspect that all of us have at least one area where we feel like “I did _________ so God better come through for me.”
One of the many ways that I am guilty of this is thinking that I can prayer nag God into doing something I want. It seems ludicrous when I type it, but I seriously will get obsessed with something that I think God should do and I act like a stubborn 4-year old that refuses to talk about anything else til I get my way.
I did this a few years ago when I had decided that God owed my oldest son a close Christian friend. We had just moved to RI and he was having a hard time with the extreme culture change and the church we were going to was not reaching out to him.
So, I decided I’d fix it by obsessing on it in prayer. Every sermon, every Bible verse and every song I heard led me to “See God, Nate needs a friend. You had friends and you are God. Don’t you think my son needs a friend?” .... continue whining and nagging ad nauseam…
Turns out, God was working in my son and the very thing I was trying to change is what God used to open his eyes to the lack of community in RI and the ministry that Nate loves today. And it was pretty silly of me to think that I could nag God over to my way of thinking.
3. We try to impress God. I’ve pretty much given up on this one because I have this streak of crazy inappropriateness that is about 10 miles wide and it is hard for me to keep it tucked in for a whole church service so I’m usually beyond thinking that I can do anything to impress God, but I have my moments…
In my early adulthood, I was super good at the whole church thing. I was a stay at home mom. I was young and cute. I volunteered in all of the right ministries and drug my kids to every program the church offered. My hubby was a deacon and the “key” minister (he unlocked and locked everything) but I struggled to feel accepted and loved by God. I kept adding things to my repertoire but never felt like it was enough.
I was always trying to make up for my past sins. I had been told before I got married that the sins of my past would keep me from ever having the “marriage that I could have had” and that idea haunted me. I wanted to be good enough to be forgiven.
One day, I was on a particularly dramatic rant about this, in my car, and I distinctly felt God with me and I kept feeling like he was saying to me, “You don’t believe me.” Of course, I argued...
Then, I started thinking about the familiar story of Paul who had been persecuting Christians and then became the writer of half the New Testament. Why did I believe that God could forgive murdering his followers but not fully forgive the things I had done?
I changed dramatically after that. I still occasionally think that God should be impressed with how good I am and then I reflect on who he is and have a good laugh (for more on this check out my post on judgmentalism)
4. We can't handle questions. Often, we read the Bible, pray, listen to sermons and talk to friends to validate what we already believe and feel. Actually, most of church culture and religion in general is built around reinforcing beliefs and keeping you in the group.
In light of how huge God is, it's pretty ridiculous that we'd ever think we have it all figured out and can't endure questions. My missionary friend, Chip Kingsbury, said that many Christians treat God like we have to protect him from people's questions. The truth is, God is pretty big and our questions aren't going to surprise him (and neither are our honest, raw emotions!). Chip went on to say that the strongest belief is when you actually seek questions.
5. We don’t love ourselves. Focusing on the enormity and importance of God and realizing that he LOVES us is a huge deal. We have almost worn out the phrase “God loves you.” And it hardly causes us to bat an eye, but really it should change everything.
When I was in college, Henry Lee Summer came to do a concert at Appalachian State. You probably have no idea who he is now, but back in the late 80’s he was the bomb! Before his concert, all of these beautiful college girls were hanging around his tour bus just trying to get a peek at him (and judging from their signs, some wanted to do a lot more than peek). I went out to the field where the performance was going to be, saw the crowd of girls, thought they were stupid and decided to catch a few rays until the concert began. I was by myself laying on a blanket in a field close to those screaming obsessed fans and I dozed off.
Apparently, Henry Lee Summer thought this was hilarious so he came over to talk to me. We didn’t start dating or anything. He asked my name, shook my hand, probably autographed something, laughed and walked away.
I don't think I've ever had a bigger boost to my confidence. I walked around like I was the hottest thing that had ever been put on the planet.
It’s really funny that such a small gesture from a (then) famous singer could impact me so strongly. Yet I claim to be loved as a child adopted into the family of GOD and act like it’s just, ehhh, I’m used to that.
If I really focus on who God is and his love for me, it should teach me to highly value myself and in a much more significant way than thinking I’m hot because an 80’s singer talked to me. It should teach me to value everything about me and to strive to be the best I can be because I’m loved in a way that I’m so unworthy of.
6.We don’t love others. It’s a popular mantra among Christians these days, “love God. Love others” but we seem to be having a hard time living it out. We act like our slogan is “love God. Condemn others that don’t agree with you…and shun those that only mostly agree with you”…(sorry my bitterness is showing!)
When we really sit and reflect on the enormity of God, the notion that he would even notice us is mind blowing. The fact that he loves us is impossible to fully comprehend. In our humanness, we struggle to accept undeserved love. But the more we rest in it and the more we allow God to love us, the more we feel compelled to love other people.
There is no better way to illustrate this than the way Jesus himself illustrated it in Mt. 18. Jesus tells the story of a man that owed a king millions of dollars. This was more money than the man could ever repay in his lifetime. The king had the right to sell the man and his whole family into slavery but the king had pity on the man and forgave his debt. The man then encountered another servant who owed him a little bit of money. The forgiven debt guy had his fellow servant thrown in jail. This ticked the king off big time and he threw down some heavy punishments for the guy who owed him money.
Then Jesus ended the story with a completely horrifying image, especially when you think about the enormity of God. He said, “that’s what my Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
You can’t possibly understand that God created the cosmos, chose to love you, and then think you have any just cause to hate anyone. I Jn. 4:20-21 Says that “if anyone claims to love God and hates his brother or sister, he is a liar.”
7. We don’t really love God: Nate brought up a very interesting question a few days ago. Why should people be Christians? We talked about all of the answers that we had heard through the years. And one answer that we had never heard was, “Because you get to have a relationship with God.”
That’s crazy, right? Think about all of the drama I mentioned in the story above because I got to shake hands with a few hits wonder 80’s popstar. And here we are offering people a relationship with the creator of everything and then trying to come up with a list of reasons why someone might want to know him!
How about…uhmmm, HE’S GOD!!!
I get it, though; we are familiar with the idea of God in our culture from the time we are a child. He seems familiar. People want to know why our idea is right.
I’d say, if you understand the enormity of who God is, our only hope of a relationship with him is in him reaching out to us.
And if you believe that is what he did, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by love for him.
(and that will, in turn, make you love who he loves, others and yourself)
Thank you for going on this journey with me through thoughts about how big God is. Perhaps now you can see why the young lady living with us said the perfect motto for my blog would be “come journey through my mind, you will feel like you have been drinking!” LOL, I hope you are challenged and blessed by this. I’m continuing to wrestle with the idea of how big God is and trying to accurately represent him in this world.
I’d love to hear from you. How are you growing in your understanding of God?
*Perhaps because I’m only slightly inappropriate and have a deep sense of respect for people who are wildly inappropriate.
**Also, I’m pretty sure that Bo Burnham and Stephen Hawking are going to want to hang out with me after reading my blog. It would probably help me achieve this if you shared it with like 100 of your closest friends!!! LOL
1Manning, Brennan. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God (p. 51). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 2 ABC News report. "Stephen Hawking:Alien Contact Could Be Risky" click here 3 Bo Burnham's skit click here