Is Your God Too Small?

The Never-Ending Need to Know God Better

Grantley Morris

The Joy of Discovering the Greatness of God

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Although everyone should find this intelligible and helpful, it is in my Deep Truths series. Mature, highly experienced, knowledgeable Christians are my target audience. All of us need to go deeper with God and the closer we get to thinking we know it all, the greater our spiritual danger. In the words of Paul:

    1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.

    1 Corinthians 9:24, 27 Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. . . . I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.

    Philippians 3:8-12  . . . I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ . . . that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.

    Philippians 3:13-15 Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. . . .

Knowing God on an increasingly deeper level is life’s greatest adventure. Nothing in the universe is nearly as thrilling and fulfilling, but it is a rollercoaster that will stretch you beyond what you supposed to be your limits.

Without realizing it, most of us, no matter how devout, struggle through life, spiritually and emotionally crippled by disturbingly distorted views of God that we don’t even question because we are convinced they are accurate and even biblical.

Alarmingly many of our convictions about God that we presume to be grounded on divine revelation are actually the product of experiences gained through living from babyhood in a world that behaves in a way that is highly contrary to God’s heart. One might expect diligent Bible study would explode our every mistaken view of God. Instead, our preconceptions are so controlling that the more we revere the Bible, the more likely we are to end up unconsciously cherry picking verses to try to prop up our misconceptions and arrogantly maintain our illusion. Yes, we read the exhortation in Romans about not being conformed to the world and instead being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) but so deceptively persuasive is the relentless brainwashing of childhood experiences and everything around us that is not one hundred percent of God, one hundred percent of the time, that I wonder if anyone on this planet has ever totally broken free from their pervasive and beguiling influence. I will prove to you that not even the best Christian upbringing and being permanently surrounded by outstanding Christians can protect us.

Scripture cites tragedy after tragedy, proving there is no one-off spiritual experience that thereafter renders us unable ever to fall. We have already quoted Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warning that anyone supposing he stands must be wary lest he fall. With the book of Proverbs likewise affirming that pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), to arrogantly think, "It couldn’t happen to me,” is to test God, spending our years ignorantly wandering blindfolded along a cliff edge. Our best defense is to stay alert to the danger, devoting our lives to remaining prayerfully vigilant.

Peter, Jesus’ specially chosen apostle, was so in tune with God that he was praised for receiving a special divine revelation that until then had been hidden from almost everyone, and Jesus then declared, “On this rock I will build my church . . .” and so on (Matthew 16:17-19). Just three verses later, this same apostle was being satanically used to tempt the Son of God (Matthew 16:22-23). Even after Pentecost, Peter was sometimes so Spirit-filled as to astonish us, but sometimes so far from it that Paul had to rebuke him for leading people astray (Galatians 2:11-13). If this is true even of such a great spiritual leader, it is clear that ungodly influences can affect even the best Christian sources, and when this happens they do even more damage than obviously worldly sources because they blindside us.

Would you honor me by joining me in prayer?

    Precious Lord, you are our life, our hope, our strength, our joy, our wisdom, our shield, our love. Bless us with a deep awareness of how desperately we need you, every moment of every day.

    We want not merely to gain knowledge but to touch your heart and for you to touch ours. May we delight in you, and be a delight to you. We long to bring you joy.

    Help us not be swayed by feelings. Instead, we want you to genuinely presence yourself with us in a special way, as we ponder this study together.

    Open our eyes, that we may see spiritual reality like never before and, in a way that truly glorifies you, empower us to respond to what you reveal. Do an ever-so-deep work within us. May we open up to you, so that you can commence a never-ending transformation in our lives as a result of this time together. Have your perfect way with us.

    Gracious Lord, although it is in an infinitesimal way, compared with what you have done, I long to, at least in some small way, lay down my life for the precious one who is taking the time to join me.

    Alongside you, my limits are ridiculously pathetic. So I look to you to soar beyond my limitations to do a deep and permanent work in this dear one's life. Cause this, your precious, irreplaceable child, from this moment onward, to soar to new heights in you – heights beyond my imagination. May this dear one be continually transformed from glory to glory, just like you ache for, and have paid such a stupendous price on the cross to make possible.

    Regardless of what is going on around and within us right now, in the name of Jesus, we come against distractions and misconceptions or any fear or skepticism or naivety or indifference and anything else that threatens to rob us of your best. We bring them all into submission to you, refusing to give them power in our lives. We yield to you. Have your beautiful way. Be exalted in all we think and do and are.

You might be astonished at how tempted I am to entice you deeper into God’s arms by insulting you. I could treat you as a fragile, dull-witted child and tell the fairy tale of the endless spring of warm, carefree sensations flowing from every encounter with the Lord of the universe. As tender as Jesus was, however, digging into the Gospels fails to unearth instances of the one who is Truth treating would-be followers that way. To call Jesus my Lord and Role Model, I am compelled to introduce you to the breathtaking highs and lows of the honest, adult version.

I admit I’m scared about how this might impact the vulnerable. I’m unfazed by critics; my worry is what the truth might do to weaklings teetering between commitment and destruction. What about those who should have grown but are still spiritual babies playing contentedly in lukewarm baths? What of those pining for ease rather than a life that brings them eternal honor and glorifies their King and Savior? Nevertheless, the Son of God, not me, is wisdom personified. He knows the best and most loving path. I must follow his lead.

Loving God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength – every part of everything within us – is our highest calling (Mark 12:30). We must understand that this is not some fluke or act of God. It is not the result of being zapped by an angelic cupid; it is the most important command –something we are required to do. It takes so much effort on our part that it taxes every fiber of our being.

Sadly, we live in a self-centered, post-Christian society where we are taught to worship ourselves rather than God, and to pervert something as noble as love until we imagine loving someone is about the thrill of being adored and pampered. True love, is about sacrifice; seeking to serve and exalt the other. It is about living to give, not to get. Preachers are so perplexed by people’s hardened hearts that they are continually tempted to abandon the real Gospel for a fake one in which God is not devoted to wrenching our favorite sins out of our lives and stretching us to achieve the highest, but to stroking our egos and pampering us with a soft, lazy life.

    2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts

The fake Gospel is about role reversal in which we become God and the Exalted One serves us, obeying our commands.

We might do lip-service to biblical revelation, but how many of us are utterly convinced that, rather than God worshipping and serving us, we should be worshipping and serving him? It might be a ridiculously basic aspect of knowing God, taken for granted even by pagans but, in practice, ignorance about the true nature of God is so rife in our era that this elementary understanding is almost a revolutionary concept in Western society, even among many who call themselves Christians.

To quote from another of my webpages:

    What is more appalling: to turn from the true God to worship a false god, or to turn the true God into a false god by the way we think of him and treat him? Isn’t it just as hideous to worship a false god we have manufactured in our imagination and fraudulently call it the God of the Bible than to worship a false god another religion has already fabricated? Calling a concoction of our own making the God of the Bible is simply more dishonest. It is so deceitful, in fact, that it is terrifyingly common even to deceive ourselves and not realize that instead of revering and seeking to please and serve the real God, we have actually replaced him in our minds with a grotesque caricature of who he really is. Do we exalt the most beautiful, lovable, tender-hearted and glorious person in the universe or do we defile him in our hearts by seeing him as a cash cow to milk for all we can get?

There might be appallingly many who are too full of themselves to understand genuine love, and too ignorant of God to get the basics right. Even they, however, still know enough to realize that being in love, or even seriously dating someone, goes hand in glove with longing to learn everything that is humanly possible to know about the person. It is one of the most basic indicators that we are serious about wanting to love God.

The truth is that knowing God is challenging, scary, perplexing, fulfilling, alarming, hair-raising and exhilarating. We see in the Bible people mortified, scared witless, blinded or physically sick or wounded, just by a single encounter with the Lord of Glory, the ultimate supernatural being. To remind yourself of this often forgotten truth I suggest reading these scriptures: Gut-Wrenching Divine Encounters.

And there’s another disturbing reason why these deep revelations of God were not for the faint-hearted: they were usually associated with being handed the weight of enormous responsibilities and terrifyingly dangerous assignments, often leading to ridicule, rejection, beatings and even martyrdom (Matthew 5:12; Hebrews 11:35-38). Many of these people ended up being asked to do things they found so abhorrent that part way through they would literally have preferred to die than do them (examples). Nevertheless, they ended up being hailed forever as heroes and rewarded so stupendously that they will be ecstatic for all eternity over having chosen God’s way.

The Dilemma

Despite excitedly commencing this webpage, convinced that it was initiated by God, my enthusiasm disturbingly wound down as my fear grew that sensitive souls might misunderstand certain matters that I felt needed touching on without delving deeply into them. I’ve already mentioned a few and there are more to come.

As I wrestled this dilemma, a comforting answer formed. It is so important and simple that it surely cannot be a unique revelation. Nevertheless, I cannot recall ever hearing or reading of it. So seriously can this matter undermine our attitude towards God and our eagerness to know him better that I believe we should stare it down together right now.

My frankness might shock you but the undeniable truth is that, when viewed in isolation, some aspects of God can seem hideous. By way of analogy, consider how, by itself, chili powder can be unpalatable, and yet when expertly mixed with other ingredients the result is delightful.

Salt, a critical ingredient in a vast range of mouth-watering dishes, provides an even more dramatic example. It makes food so delicious that few of us are in any danger of a salt deficiency. Indeed, we tend to over-indulge. Without any salt, however, we would actually die. This life-giving substance is the union of a deadly gas (chlorine) and a hazardous, potentially explosive chemical (sodium). Either of these alone is both obnoxious and dangerous. When chemically united, however, they not only bring us pleasure but are essential for life. (More about Salt).

Like sodium, wrath is just one of many divine attributes that are inevitably modified almost beyond recognition when fused to the constraints of all God’s other abilities and values. A grotesquely mistaken impression can result from trying to guess what God is like by imagining the implications of just a few of his attributes without realizing the transforming power of the multiple checks and balances of all his other qualities.

The same is true of plucking just a few incidents out of the long and intricate series of events God is working on. It can be catastrophically misleading not only to rip verses out of context but to rip events out of context. If, for example, I said someone hacked through a person’s chest and grabbed his beating heart, it might help to mention that he was performing life-saving heart surgery.

Trying to spy the Eternal One through a tiny pinhole in time is sure to end in tears. For anyone who can neither peer far into the future, nor into the unfathomable complexities of God’s mind, it would be absurd to expect a single snapshot in time to confirm the truth that God is always right and always good. Critics might be shocked by what happens partway through the process, but when God’s work is done and the masterpiece is unveiled, awe will hush every accusing voice.

So if ever you were to find in the flawless Lord anything that alarms you, your concern is needless. Whether it be within salt or within God, things that by themselves are undesirable, turn out to be just what we need when melded together.

You now understand the principle as well as I do: as chili powder becomes delicious when expertly blended with good ingredients, and sodium becomes astonishingly different, changing from dangerous to desirable, when united to chlorine, so does, for example, wrath, holiness and infinite power, when united with love, wisdom and goodness. If you wish to delve deeper by exploring how specific divine attributes transform, balance and beautify each other, see this short note: Divine Perfection.

The Mysterious Elohim

To help you grasp why there is so much to knowing God, I’ll introduce this subject the way God grabbed my attention. It might intrigue you or it might seem vague and unconvincing. Either way, from there we will drill down into solid, indisputable Bible truth.

I interrupted my wife while she was praying. She said she had just asked the Lord, “What do you want me to know about you?” She received a single word response: Elohim. “What does that mean?” she asked me, frustrated that God so often gives enigmatic answers.

Initially puzzled myself, I stumbled around, explaining what I know about Elohim. Upon doing so, I began to see clearly what the Lord was getting at.

For years, Vicki had frequently been speaking against the danger of limiting God and having a narrow view of him. He was affirming this and saying he wanted her to go even deeper. It now seems to me, however, that he used the word Elohim more for my sake – and perhaps yours – than hers.

You have probably noticed, both in the Bible and in God’s subsequent dealings with people, how the Lord often says puzzling things (either in words, dreams, visions or circumstances) that the recipients are tempted to dismiss as meaningless, frustratingly vague, not of God, or even offensive (consider his followers’ reaction to Jesus telling them they must eat his flesh – John 6:53,60-61,66). The divine intention is to get us prayerfully thinking about the matter and, if we persist in doing so, what began as a frustrating conundrum will slowly become highly illuminating. It is typical that just when we think God is being foolish or unloving or that God cannot be in something, it is precisely when he is being particularly wise.

Anyhow, I’m now convinced the Lord used the word Elohim to entice me to think so much about this matter that this webpage would be written.

In Old Testament Hebrew, Elohim is one of the most common names for God, but there is something surprising about it. Whereas, in English, s at the end of a noun turns it plural (e.g. god becomes gods), the Hebrew equivalent is im (e.g. the plural of cherub is cherubim – 2 Chronicles 3:11). In fact, Elohim is so plural that although it usually means God, in almost two hundred contexts, Elohim is translated gods in the King James Version. For instance, the expression “God of gods” (Psalm 136:2) is more literally “Elohim of Elohim”. In this expression, the same form of the word is used twice, with the first use obviously meaning God and the second obviously meaning gods (plural). Today, we can at least begin a word with a capital letter (upper case) to distinguish between both meanings but not even that convention existed back then.

Scripture insists that the only true God is indisputably one, and yet Elohim implies there is a certain plurality about him. I refuse to squash the possibility that this hints at the trinity but there seems more to it than just that. God being three persons in one might shatter a simplistic view of God but divine mysteries and complexities stretch far beyond that. In fact, there are scriptural suggestions that even when paring down the Godhead to just one member – the Holy Spirit – the multiplicity remains. If this interests you, see this brief note: Plurality Within a Member of the Trinity. In that note I point out that there are even biblical hints that within the Spirit are several different types of plurality. I deliberately chose the vague word several rather than the specific number I have identified in Scripture. This is to avoid the presumption that I have found or that God has even hinted at every level of this mystery. In refusing to go beyond biblical revelation, I must reverence Scripture’s insistence that not everything has been revealed (Scriptures).

Back to Elohim: for insight into biblical Hebrew choosing a plural word for God, consider that the Hebrew word for face (panim) is also plural. You have just one face and yet, because it reflects your extensive range of feelings, your one face is capable of a huge number of different facial expressions, with some variations being dramatic and some being so subtle that only an expert can detect them. Add to this the observation that if we are a higher lifeform than a tadpole, God is higher than us – so much so that, to use his words, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). If we humans have complex personalities and are capable of a vast range of feelings, this must be even more so for the Infinite Lord.

Unfortunately, I can only guess as to what it would be like to have Hebrew as my native language. I presume that having my language force me to use the plural whenever speaking of a face would soon lose its novelty but is likely, nevertheless, to remain a regular reminder of how dynamic and expressive the face is. Likewise, it seems to me that calling the One you worship Gods would serve as a regular reminder of the mysterious depth and complexity of God.

With one of the Jews’ most common names for God being spelt Gods, and being surrounded by nations where everyone worshipped many gods, it is no wonder that Jews kept emphasizing that there is only one God. For example, devout Jews would cite every day “Hear, Israel: the Lord is our God. The Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It was part of the Shema which was also attached to the doorpost of their houses and, when praying, to their head and arm. Astonishingly, however, even “the Lord is our God” portion of that quote is literally, “Yahweh is our Elohim.” How perplexing! (Other Interesting Occurrences of Elohim).

Nevertheless, this enigma was the Lord’s choice. Instead of forbidding the use of the word Elohim and insisting he be known only as Yahweh, the God who is one embraced Elohim as an appropriate name.

Before going any further, I should provide a biblical example to highlight the limits on what I will soon say. The Word of God calls our Lord a rock (Many Examples). Had this not so clearly have divine approval, I would never have dared use that expression. After all, there are just a couple of points of vague similarity against an overwhelming number of ways in which our dynamic Lord is nothing like a rock. So it is with thinking of God in terms of gods.

As much as the Almighty wanted it known that he is undeniably one, he equally wanted it known that there is some sort of mysterious plurality about him. He is so wondrously paradoxical and bewilderingly complicated that it is almost as if he were a multiplicity of gods – without, of course, the Perfect One having the slightest inner conflict, contradiction or disharmony.

It is said that Hinduism has millions of gods – a god for every occasion, and gods with very different personalities and abilities. The true God is, of course, the God for every occasion but he is also mind-bogglingly complex, and the human mind keeps oversimplifying him. It is as if a common response among pagans to being overwhelmed by the complexity of God is to try to carve him up into a number of different gods. Each of these gods are, of course, false. They are products of demonic deception and human fantasy.

It is not only pagans who cannot get their heads around the intricacies of the infinite Lord, however. Christian minds boggle as well. Our challenge is that since we know that God is one, we can end up not worshiping God in all his grandeur but just a tiny, cut down part of him. In fact, without realizing it, we can edge towards serving not the Omnipotent Lord but a lesser god.

The God we worship is not just the Almighty but the Creator, the Holy One, the All-knowing Lord, the Eternal One, the One who is everywhere at once, the All-sufficient One, our Savior, the Judge of all humanity, the Ruler of the universe, the God of love, and the God of so much more. An approximation of the real God cannot be found by singling one god out of a polytheistic assortment of cut down versions. Rather than being like a single one of those pagan gods, there is so much to the one true God that he is closer to being the gods. In contrast to being remotely like a solitary, simplified, humanized god, he is closer to being like all those diverse, carved up versions – added to still further, and purified of their character flaws, heresies and unrealities – all rolled back into one, glorious, indivisible being.

Of course, to conceive of the Perfect One in terms of a unified multiplicity of gods is as insultingly inadequate as calling God a rock. For a start, no matter how important it is to do all one can to avoid degrading God by having a simplistic understanding of him, it remains equally critical that no-one’s conception of the true God be tainted by attributing to him anything demonic or inferior or exclusively human that is easily incorporated into polytheism, such as sexuality, mortality, moral flaws and disputes and jealousies between gods (or within God).

Thinking of God as having the slightest similarity to a multitude of gods is so crude that I cringe to mention it. Our quandary, however, is that even our highest attempts to gain an adequate conception of God is also appallingly deficient. Without intending to do so, we all create in our minds a wafer thin fragment of little more than a few aspects of the unfathomable Lord and then have the audacity to pretend our warped, miniaturized fabrication is God.

Yes, our gracious Lord knows our limitations and humbly accepts them, but this is no excuse for any of us being content with remaining more ignorant of God than we need be. Indeed, willful or lazy ignorance has consequences.

Ignorance is Bliss?

The Lord recently told a friend of mine that there was something even worse than keeping secrets. For you to understand why this seized our attention, I should explain that over the years literally thousands of people have shared their hearts with me. A large number of them had been trying to keep things secret even from themselves by ignoring or suppressing bitter memories or disturbing facts. Many of these people now realize that despite years of thinking that by keeping secrets from themselves they had been making things easier, they had actually been prolonging and intensifying their torment.

“You are as sick as your secrets,” (Source) is a saying they now readily agree with, as well as with me writing such things as: “In the dark, things seem more frightening than they really are. It is when they are brought into the light that they lose their power to terrify. It is then that they cease to haunt us.”

The friend the Lord spoke to is one of those dear people who are now sorely aware of the horror of keeping secrets and the joyous relief of breaking the icy silence.

So what is even more dangerous than keeping secrets? It is, God explained, doing one’s utmost to keep hidden from oneself questions one is too scared to ask. The reason God gave for this being so serious is that questions have answers, and unasked questions have a way of latching on to ‘answers’ that are not only wrong but destructive.

My mind shot to this incident:

    Mark 9:31-32 For he was teaching his disciples, and said to them, “The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, on the third day he will rise again.”
    But they didn’t understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him
    (Emphasis mine).

I wonder how much better the disciples would have coped with Jesus’ arrest had they forced themselves to ask the tough questions beforehand. Regardless of how that particular incident would have turned out, we put ourselves in spiritual danger whenever we choose ignorance over gaining a deeper understanding of God’s ways.

Here’s a Scripture that rams this home:

    Proverbs 1: 20-32 Wisdom calls aloud in the street . . . “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? . . . If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you  . . . ignored all my advice  . . . I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock  . . . when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. . . . For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them . . .” (NIV)

Spiritually, if ignorance is bliss, it’s the bliss that leads to tragedy. Instead of learning all that we can about God while we have the opportunity, however, many of us hold back; scared that if we probe too deeply we will discover that God is not truly good. That fear will never materialize. God is always mind-bogglingly good and wise and loving.

Others of us are reluctant to get to know God better for fear that it might lead to discovering he wants from us things we do not want to do. That’s certainly a possibility. Because God is always good and wise and selfless, however, he always has our best interests at heart even more than we do, and he is always smarter than us in knowing what that is. So even if God asks of you something you initially fear, it will end up being the best choice you could ever make. (This truth is expounded in the link God’s Will For You: More Wonderful Than You Could Imagine! at the end of this series of webpages.)

Continued

This webpage has grown so much that I have cut it into sections. In my opinion, the second half is the best. While prayerfully writing it, the Lord revealed so much that I had not fully grasped before, that if by reading it you learn for the first time just a fraction of what I gained by writing it, you need to read it.

For the remainder of this webpage, please see Knowing God Better.

Links

Links referred to above, appear the end of this series of webpages. To go to them immediately, CLICK HERE.

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