Monday Food For Thought–JI Packer on the Majesty of God

How may we form a right idea of God’s greatness? The Bible teaches us two steps that we must take. The first is to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make him small. The second is to compare him with powers and forces which we regard as great.

For an example of what the FIRST step involves, took at Psalm 139, where the psalmist meditates on the infinite and unlimited nature of God’s presence, and knowledge, and power, in relation to people. We are always in God’s presence, he says. You can cut yourself off from your fellow human beings, but you cannot get away from your Creator. “You hem me in—behind and before…. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens [the sky], you are there; if I make my bed in the depths [the underworld], you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,” I still cannot escape from the presence of God: “even there your hand will guide me” (vv. 5-10). Nor can darkness, which hides me from human sight, shield me from God’s gaze (vv. 11-12). And just as there are no bounds to his presence with me, so there are no limits to his knowledge of me. Just as I am never left alone, so I never go unnoticed. “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise [all my actions and movements]; you perceive my thoughts [all that goes on in my mind] from afar…. You are familiar with all my ways [all my habits, plans, aims, desires, as well as all my life to date]. Before a word is on my tongue [spoken, or meditated] you know it completely, O LORD” (vv. 1-4). I can hide my heart, and my past, and my future plans, .from those around me, but I cannot hide anything from God….

For an example of what the SECOND step involves, look at Isaiah 40. Here God speaks to people whose mood is the mood of many Christians today-despondent people, cowed people, secretly despairing people; people against whom the tide of events has been running for a very long time, people who have ceased to believe that the cause of Christ can ever prosper again. Now see how God through his prophet reasons with them. Look at the TASKS I have done, he says. Could you do them? Could any man do them? “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (v. 12). Are you wise enough, and mighty enough, to do things like that? But I am, or I could not have made this world at all. Behold your God! Look now at the NATIONS, the prophet continues: the great national powers, at whose mercy you feel yourselves to be; Assyria, Egypt, Babylon—you stand in awe of them, and feel afraid of them, so vastly do their armies and resources exceed yours. But now consider how God stands related to those mighty forces which you fear so much. “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket, they are regarded as dust on the scales;. . . Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing” (Is 40:15, 17). You tremble before the nations, because you are much weaker than they; but God is so much greater than the nations that they are as nothing to him. Behold your God! Look next at the WORLD. Consider the size of it, the variety and complexity of it, think of the nearly five thousand millions who populate it, and of the vast sky above it. What puny figures you and I are, by comparison with the whole planet on which we live! Yet what is this entire mighty planet by comparison with God? “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Is 40:22). The world dwarfs us all, but God dwarfs the world. The world is his footstool, above which he sits secure. He is greater than the world and all that is in it, so that all the feverish activity of its bustling millions does no more to affect him than the chirping and jumping of grasshoppers in the summer sun does to affect us. Behold your God! Look, fourthly, at the world’s GREAT PEOPLE-the governors whose laws and policies determine the welfare of millions; the would-be world rulers, the dictators and empire builders, who have it in their power to plunge the globe into war. Think of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar, think of Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler. Think, today, of Clinton and Saddam Hussein. Do you suppose that it is really these top men who determine which way the world shall go? Think again, for God is greater than the world’s great men. “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Is 40:23). He is, as the prayer book says, “the only ruler of princes.” Behold your God! But we have not finished yet. Look, lastly, at the STARS. The most universally awesome experience that mankind knows is to stand alone on a clear night and look at the stars. Nothing gives a greater sense of remoteness and distance; nothing makes one feel more strongly one’s own littleness and insignificance. And we who live in the space age can supplement this universal experience with our scientific knowledge of the actual factors involved—millions of stars in number, billions of light years in distance. Our minds reel; our imaginations cannot grasp it; when we try to conceive of unfathomable depths of outer space, we are left mentally numb and dizzy. But what is this to God? “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Is 40:26). It is God who brings out the stars; it was God who first set them in space; he is their Maker and Master—they are all in his hands and subject to his will. Such are his power and his majesty. Behold your God!

–JI Packer, Knowing God, cited in part in yesterday’s sermon by yours truly

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture