What size is your God?
Size is determined by units of measurement, and these units vary depending on the object we measure. Gold is measured in ounces or grams, coal in tons. Crude oil is shipped in terms of barrels, refined gasoline is sold as liters or gallons. The size of a box is measured by its length x width x height, in inches or centimeters, but carpeting a room requires square yards or meters. Yards are unsuitable to cite the distance between New York and Nairobi—we use miles or kilometers. But interplanetary distances call for light years, with one light year equal to the distance light travels in a year at a speed of 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second. Almost unthinkable!
But how big is your God? Is He so far removed, so infinite that time and space mean nothing to Him? Is He so transcendent that we can acknowledge Him as the moral ground or the first cause of the universe, then leave Him alone to His grandeur and carry on our lives with no reference to His existence or demands? Or is He so near, so immanent, so involved in life and its myriad movements that He lives on that tree or is found in this stone or is a part of all that exists—kind of an ongoing pantheistic being, and make Him like one of us? Or do these thoughts matter at all?
To the Psalmist, the matter of God’s size did matter. “Where can I go from your Spirit?” he asks. “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).* Contemplate on this, and you have the concept of infinite—not the mathematical kind where infinity stands beyond reachableness, but the spiritual dynamic, in which God can be at once transcendent and immanent, infinite but loving enough to identify with human needs and concerns. Hence David’s wonder and contentment: God is in heaven—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent—and yet caring enough to let His hand “hold me fast.”
In this very wonder and contentment lies one of the great challenges a Christian faces in respect to God: the temptation to view God from the viewpoint of our limitations and question His power and might.
Resisting the temptation
But Christians who accept the Bible as the revelation of God to humanity are not without help in resisting such temptation. The Bible speaks of God’s ultimate self-disclosure in the person of Jesus, in whom the finite and the infinite merge. In Him the divine and the human, the entirely Other and the One who identified with our weakness and frailty, came together to show that life can be lived in close relationship with God without diluting His magnificent infinitude.
Jesus demonstrated in His life, death, and resurrection the power of God. This power touched the lives of His disciples and transformed them. The timid and blundering Peter became a fearless preacher on the day of Pentecost. The doubting Thomas sought for a scientific evidence and a sensory proof, and when the risen Jesus confronted him, he fell at His feet in humility, acknowledging, “‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:28).
But the vacillation of Peter and the doubting of Thomas are not unique to them. Christians in every age seem to have difficulty believing all aspects of God’s revelation if they cannot find acceptable support. For example, consider the prophetic words of Revelation 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” Some ask, How can everyone on earth see the coming of Jesus at the same time, given the fact that the earth is round? A scientific query indeed, but it ignores the fact that we are facing here a divine event, and God is not to be understood in terms of human limitations. Consider that even we humans have developed in our time the technological capacity to let a single event be viewed around the globe at the same time. I am not proposing that Christ will use satellites and TV to broadcast His second coming. But I am suggesting that if finite beings have devised a system whereby an incident on this earth can be viewed simultaneously by all its inhabitants, why limit an infinite God from causing this to happen in whatever way He chooses? How big is your God?
God’s power and creation
One area in which this problem of limiting God’s power especially shows up is the origin of earth and life upon it. Many scientists assert that this earth—along with many galaxies and planets—resulted from the explosion of some mass of unknown origin, and life eventually evolved when the right conditions existed. But the theory of evolution is not as scientifically sound as many people are led to believe, and several scholarly works have pointed out the scientific problems in the theory of evolution. (See box.)
There is a basic philosophical difference between a scientist who supports evolution and one who believes in Creation. Science deals with natural phenomena. The theory of evolution explains the origin of this world and life within it, using the natural laws whose effects are observed in the world. The problem is that there are significant gaps that cannot be bridged by any known laws or observed phenomena. For example, the age-old question: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Every chicken is hatched from an egg, and every egg is laid by a chicken. The first chicken or first egg appearing by any other means was unnatural, to say the least! The Creation scientist points this out and says that science can deal only with natural laws that were set up as part of a supernatural Creation. This can be understood by comparing the manufacture and maintenance of a car. The tools that are quite satisfactory for servicing a car are inadequate for its manufacture. Scientific laws that sufficiently serve to understand the operation and maintenance of this world are inadequate to account for its origin.
The first law of thermodynamics deals with the conservation of energy. This law states that natural processes can neither create nor destroy energy, but may only convert energy from one form to another. This places an important limitation on nature. Since matter is a form of energy, nature cannot account for the total energy, including matter, in the universe. Hence the need for the supernatural. Could this supernatural be the Creator God, revealed to us more specifically by Jesus Christ?
Those who believe that the Bible is the revelation of God should not be surprised if any scientific determination of the age of the earth is inconsistent with the Creation story. The act of creation implies a supernatural event with a fully developed, mature earth with inhabitants at the end of Creation week. Any method of dating the earth scientifically involves assumptions of conditions and natural processes and will not yield results that would support a supernatural Creation base.
Since God has created this world supernaturally, no method of dating the earth scientifically even in Adam’s time would have yielded a result consistent with Creation. The entrance of sin has changed the perspective of humanity and has placed a limitation on human understanding. This is where faith comes in. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:3, 6).
What we have seen so far warns us to be cautious in seeking, from our human perspective, to place a limit on the person and power of God. We cannot measure or understand God from the standpoint of our inadequacy. Nor can we appreciate fully the role of God in this earth and its history from the limited perspective of our intelligence. We can think, probe, query, discuss—in fact, God encourages us to do so—but there comes a point when the vast gulf between the finite and the infinite confronts us. The finite cannot encompass or fully understand the infinite; the finite can only believe. It is then that faith comes to our rescue. And while we study and theorize, one who affirms faith in God will humbly confess that not all things are clear just now. “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
What size is your God? Large enough to make meaning in life, even though we cannot understand all the mysteries involved in life? Or so small that life becomes a tortuous journey, tossed to and fro, from hesitation to doubt to despair? The choice is yours.
E. Theodore Agard (Ph.D., University of Toronto) served for many years as radiation physicist and radiation safety officer at Kettering Medical Center, Dayton, Ohio. He continues to research, write, and lecture. His address: P.O. Box 678425; Orlando, Florida 32867-8425;U.S.A. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* All Bible quotations in this article are from the New International Version.