Does Orthodoxy Make God Too Small?

If you’ve ever contended on behalf of unpopular Christian doctrines, you’ve probably heard this more than once: “You’re just putting God in a box!” “Your God is as small and narrow-minded as you are!” “My God is big enough to embrace and include everything you just condemned!”

The variations are endless, but among those who are too theologically illiterate to make a real argument, this is the go-to genericism of the postmodern age. Did somebody tell you that Jesus Christ is the only name by which we are saved? Did they affirm that God created us as male and female? Did they condemn literally any heresy or moral lapse? Well, tell them their God is too small, and then chuck your microphone to the floor to distract them as you scurry away to your safe space.

But what are we to make of this “big” god of theirs? As an argument, measuring God’s “size” is absolutely inane, but the line isn’t embraced because it makes sense, but because it presents a compelling impression. The mental image is clear enough: It’s a god who is so transcendent that it cannot be grasped by human thought or described in human language (so that no theology can be wrong or right.) Its a god of possibilities so infinite that no circumstance can be contrary to it (so that nothing may be deemed a disorder.) It’s a god whose love is so vast that it embraces everyone and everything without question or hesitation (so that nothing may be condemned.) All the superlatives may sound appealing, but does this image really depict a god who is “bigger” than Jesus Christ?

Let’s look beyond the impression and consider the substance.

Another way of saying that their god is too transcendent to be understood is to say that their god is incapable of communicating with anything outside of itself. After all, if there is nothing you can say or understand about your god, then neither is there any communion or relationship with him. Revelation is simply too tall of an order for such a “big” god. Theirs is a silent god, too mute to say anything at all.

This is in sharp contrast to Jesus Christ, who became man and lived among his creatures. He conversed and interacted with them. He taught them. He told his companions that in knowing him they did know God. He promised them that God not only could but would lead them into all truth.  And from within this real fellowship, he warned them of false christs and false teachers–those whose claims of representing God are only one among the many false teachings they peddle. Jesus Christ is a God of revelation.

Another way of describing a god of infinite possibilities is a god who does not create. After all, even to say “let there be light” is to divide light from darkness and order them in relation to one another. To create flowers–though their variety be as infinite as the stars above–is to create something that is very distinct from a mountain or a cloud or a bird or a man. To create a man is to create something that is not a woman. Design is too great a feat for such a “big” god. As Tertullian said of the Gnostics, theirs is a god who cannot create even one sorry vegetable.

This is in sharp contrast to Jesus Christ, who created the entire universe from nothing. He took the dust he had made and formed it into creatures that bore his own image–persons with their own minds, wills, and souls but sharing one flesh from which they themselves are capable of creating. And from within this creative act, he recognized the glory of his design along with the death inherent in defying it that would reduce his creatures back to mere dust again. Jesus Christ is a God of creation.

Another way of describing a god who unquestioningly embraces everyone and everything is a god who simply does not care. After all, failing to demand retribution for wrongdoing is synonymous with denying the value of the victim. One who does not condemn the things that degrade and destroy what he loves simply has nothing and no one that he loves. “Thou shalt not” is simply too audacious a declaration for such a “big” god. Theirs is a nihilistic god who is too pusillanimous to love anyone at all.

This is as far from Jesus Christ as the east is from the west. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. He loves us enough to both demand and pay the retribution incurred by our sins. He loves us enough to discipline us and show us how we ought to live. He loves us enough to hate and condemn any evil that threatens us. Jesus Christ is a God of Love.

What, then, do those who worship a “big” god invariably end up with? A god without person. A god without substance. A god without will or love or mind. The person who thinks God is too small worships nothing more than their own frail and malformed impression for whom even specificity is too heavy a burden to bear. In the end, the pious superlatives they slather on to mask their unbelief are utterly devoid of any truth, goodness, or beauty.

Thanks be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that Christians do not worship a “big” god.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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