Watch Now

Deep Grace: Your View of God is Too Small



Your View of God is Too Small

Romans 11:33-36


We as humans have devised many scales of measurement. We measure height or length in terms of inches, yards, and meters. We measure distance in feet, yards, and miles. We weigh objects in pounds and ounces. We divide time from millennia all the way down to nanoseconds (one-billionth of a second). We measure temperature down to absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin or minus 459.7 degrees Fahrenheit).


But you may not be aware of these strange measurements:


The Smoot: As almost every MIT student knows, a smoot is a unit of length equal to five feet seven inches. In 1958, a 5 foot 7 inch tall fraternity pledge named Oliver Smoot agreed to be used to measure the Harvard Bridge which connects Boston and Cambridge. After repeatedly lying down on the bridge and having his position marked in chalk, it turned out that the bridge was 364.4 smoots (and an ear) long. Google now offers the option to measure anything in smoots.


The “Just a Moment”: Ever hear that one? We hear it a lot in our house, usually somewhat angrily and yelled after we’ve told someone that it’s time to get off tech, or to get ready for bed, or to get ready to leave. Whenever somebody asks you to do something and you reply “just a moment,” don’t think you’re being sneaky by not giving them a precise time. You’re not. A moment was a measurement of time used during the medieval period that’s roughly equal to one and a half minutes. So a moment is different than a minute.


The Scoville: The Scoville Scale is used to measure the amount of capsaicin in chilies, because it’s important to know the exact temperature of the inferno that’s raging in your mouth. For example, the Scolville rates a pimento (100-500), cayenne pepper (30,000-50,000), the Carolina reaper (1,000,000), and law enforcement pepper spray (5,000,000) on the scale.[i]


We have scales for measuring almost anything, from the smallest fraction of time or the smallest particle to the farthest distances and heaviest things we can imagine. And we as human beings have been able to see and measure things using incredibly large units of measurement like light years. So 5 years ago, the furthest galaxy discovered by spectroscopy is z8_GND_5296.6. It’s a galaxy that is 13.8 billion light-years old, or 13.8 billion light-years away. Spatially speaking, it’s the highest height. The deepest depth is the Challenger Deep, part of a trench 6.85 miles beneath the U.S. Territorial Island of Guam.[ii]


But there’s one being we’ve been trying to measure since the beginning of time … God. The problem is that no matter how we attempt to define God, or measure God, or wrap our minds around God, the only thing we end up doing is diminishing God. We have to diminish God in order to even begin to comprehend God, because our minds are finite. Some, like mine, are much more finite than others, like Becky’s. Well-known 19th Century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, often called the Prince of Preachers, said, “As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God.”


And St. Paul understood this problem. He’s just spent what we know as the first 11 chapters of Romans, his letter to the Church in Rome, the followers of Christ in Rome, describing in incredible detail the richness and the grandeur and the beauty and the wisdom of the grace and mercy of God. And in so doing, he points us to a God of infinite power and endless love and incredible patience, a God who chooses to offer forgiveness and hope to us, to a people who spit in his face and who want nothing to do with him. A God who moves to save a people who neither want to be saved nor think we need to be saved. And not because we are deserving. We aren’t. But because he is a God of grace and love. In Christ, he did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves – he became himself the sacrifice needed to cleanse us of our sin. He took upon himself our just punishment, and offers us his life in return.


Even the rejection of his own special people, the Jewish people, a people set aside to reveal to the world the incredible nature of God and the life into which he invites us, he has, in his wisdom, used as an opening to reveal and share his love with the other peoples of the earth. That’s most of us. But even then his promises hold. He has not turned his back on his own people, and many, many of them will come into his Kingdom through Christ.


And Paul has spent the better part of 11 chapters describing the incredible reality of who Christ is and what God has done for us in Christ and now he just falls on his knees before God in spontaneous praise. The last four verses of Romans 11, Vv. 33-36, make up the longest of Paul’s doxologies. This isn’t the only one. In most of his letters Paul was so overcome by awe at who God is and what God has done for us that he just breaks into spontaneous praise. We call that a doxology.


At Christ Church, we sing a doxology as we bring the offering forward every week during worship. Some churches have stopped doing that because it seems weird that all the people just stand up and start singing and new people might feel like they don’t know what’s going on. But that’s what a doxology IS. It’s spontaneous, unplanned praise. When we do it, Gregg asks everyone who is able to stand, and then we put the words on the screen, right? So our doxology is a little to predictable to actually be a doxology. Now if Lenda were to at some point become so overcome by the greatness of God, the majesty of God, and the depth of God’s love that she walked up to the piano and started playing the doxology in the middle of the sermon, or during a prayer, THAT would be more like a real doxology. And that’s exactly what St. Paul does here. He’s so lost in the grandeur of Christ that he breaks out in praise. Turn with me to Romans 11:33-36.


Paul is completely overcome by the greatness of God. And its his experience of, deep contemplation of, and meditation on the grace of God in Christ that has brought him to this place, this place where all he can do is drop to his knees in praise. It has been said that Jesus  is the exegesis of God. So what does that mean? The exegesis of something is the critical explanation or interpretation of something. Typically, it’s written text. I exegete the text of Scripture each week as I study for and write the sermon. Exegesis asks questions like, “What did this mean when it was written in its original literary and cultural context?” “How do I bridge the gap to today?” and “How do I apply it in today’s context?” The legal profession does the same thing with the US Constitution and our code of laws. In John 14:9 Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In Colossians 1:15 St. Paul calls him “the image of the invisible God.” Christ is God with skin on. God interpreting himself, explaining himself, to and for us. And Paul looks at what God has done for us in Christ and is overcome not by the love of God, or the grace of God, or the mercy of God, but by the greatness of God.


He’s saying, “Who but God could have thought this up?” God, the one against who the offense was done, choosing in his goodness and love to pay the penalty for our sin, offering us forgiveness, and seeking us out for a restored, renewed relationship. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” writes Paul back in Romans 5:8. When human beings make up gods, make up divinities, we make them in our own image. They’re just as fickle and jealous and full of rage and anger and lust and pride as we are, plus they’re all powerful. And religion then becomes our means of appeasing those gods, controlling those gods, and making ourselves worthy of respect from those gods. It’s about us making ourselves good enough. The gospel, the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ is that God has taken the initiative, and in love and mercy has done all that is necessary for us to be restored to a relationship with him. All we have to do is humbly receive the gift. And Paul is like, “No human mind could have thought this up. Only God is capable of something like this. Jesus is the last thing anyone, even God’s own people, expected in a messiah, in a savior.


Look at the words Paul uses to describe the greatness of God here. Look at V. 33. He uses the word “depth” to describe the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge not because they’re so profound, although they are, but because in the ancient world, nothing was more powerful and more profound that the sea. The depths of the ocean were dark and mysterious. No one could discover its secrets. Even today, we have put more human beings on the moon, a height of some 252,000 miles, than we have at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean at almost 7 miles deep. It’s easier to put people on the moon than it is to put them in the deepest depths of the ocean. It’s easier to deal with the unlivable environment of space than it is the unlivable environment at the bottom of the ocean. When Paul uses the word depth to describe God’s greatness, he’s getting at the unfathomable mystery of God and his ways. That even in Christ, the very exegesis of God, there is something we just can’t wrap our minds around, so vast is the greatness of God.


And God’s greatness is a wealth of greatness. The word wealth gets at overflowing goodness. The verb used here means “to flow.” The greatness and goodness of God are uncontainable. They spill over, overflow. There is no end to the greatness of God. It is infinite. Knowledge is information, and wisdom is the ability to apply that information correctly. God knows all that can be known, all that there is to know, and he always applies that knowledge correctly. Unsearchable and unfathomable get at our inability to track God. We cannot figure out God using human logic. God’s judgments are the decisions he makes and his ways are the ways in which he acts. With human logic being applied by the best of human minds, we just can’t fully grasp God.


That isn’t to say that there is nothing that we can understand of God. Paul is clear throughout Romans that God has made himself visible in creation, and most clearly in Christ. But we cannot understand the fullness of God. The ultimate depth of God. But even a glimpse of the greatness of God is enough to drop us to our knees in worship. The resources of God’s mercy and grace and wisdom and knowledge are infinite. They are endless.


Now look at where Paul goes next in his doxology. Look at Vv. 34-35. Paul refers back to the Old Testament, to Isaiah 40:13 and then Job 41:11. When Isaiah was one of God’s faithful prophets in Israel, the Assyrian Empire was rapidly expanding, and Israel was in significant decline. And as the people of Israel looked out to the horizon, they wondered what God was up to, whether and how God would protect them from the looming greatness of Assyria. Isaiah spoke God’s truth to a frightened, confused people.


The book of Job is much more personal. It speaks God’s truth to a frightened, confused individual – Job. One of the things I find interesting is that no matter how much Job questioned God, and boy did he question God – he actually viewed himself as a prosecuting attorney and subpoenaed God to defend his actions before Job – Job never sinned. It isn’t wrong to question God. God knows that whereas his knowledge and wisdom and resources are limitless, ours are very limited. He knows we can’t even begin to see, much less understand, what he is doing sometimes. But as with Job, God also doesn’t necessarily answer our questions. He was perfectly fine with Job’s questions. He just didn’t answer any of them. Instead, he gifted Job with his awesome presence. He allowed Job to see a little of his greatness, and he asked questions of Job in return. So when Job asks, “Where were you, God, when my life was falling apart?” And God replies, “Where were you, Job, when I created the cosmos?” And in that encounter with God’s good, loving greatness, none of Job’s questions were answered. He simply stopped asking them altogether. The greatness of God was enough.


Anyone found themselves questioning God lately? Anyone wondering what in the world God is doing? He’s pretty much pushed pause on the whole world. The fragility of the human immune system, the fragility of the world’s economies, the fragility of all that we hold dear has come into stark relief. God has pushed pause on the whole world. But where is he in all of this? Right? Maybe a better question to ask is “Where do I see the greatness of God and the goodness of God in all of this? How is God revealing himself to me, to his church, to the world in this pause?”


“Who has known the mind of God?” “Who has been God’s counselor?” Anyone been busy giving God advice lately? “Who has resources enough to pay God back?” Rhetorical questions, every one. The answer is “No one.” Absolutely no one. That’s like an ant figuring out the ocean and telling it what to do. You say, “Pastor, that statement doesn’t even make sense.” Exactly. Neither does it make sense to think that even the brightest, or the holiest, most devoted among us will ever fully understand God. We won’t. All we’ll learn to do is trust. And that is exactly what God wants us to do. Look at V. 36.


From Him: Christ is the sources of all things.


Through Him: Christ is the sustainer, the means of all things.


And To Him: Christ is the goal, the significance of all things.


In America, we like to celebrate the self-made person. But the truth is, there’s no such thing. No matter how self-made you think you are – no matter the knowledge you’ve gained, the businesses you’ve started, the wealth you’ve amassed, the significance in the eyes of others you’ve achieved, the power you’ve attained, or the body you’ve built, you are not a self-made person. And it pales in comparison to the greatness of God in Christ. It’s the same as the ant telling the ocean what to do.


Pastor John Ortberg shared this story with his congregation a few years back. “Many years ago I was walking in Newport Beach, a beach in Southern California, with two friends. Two of us were on staff together at a church, and one was an elder at the same church. We walked past a bar where a fight had been going on inside. The fight had spilled out into the street, just like in an old western. Several guys were beating up on another guy, and he was bleeding from the forehead. We knew we had to do something, so we went over to break up the fight. … I don’t think we were very intimidating. [All we did was walk over and say,] “Hey, you guys, cut that out!” It didn’t do much good.


Then all of a sudden they looked at us with fear in their eyes. The guys who had been beating up on the one guy stopped and started to slink away. I didn’t know why until we turned and looked behind us. Out of the bar had come the biggest man I think I’ve ever seen. He was something like six feet, seven inches, maybe 300 pounds, maybe 2 percent body fat. Just huge. We called him “Bubba” (not to his face, but afterwards, when we talked about him).


Bubba didn’t say a word. He just stood there and flexed. You could tell he was hoping they would try and have a go at him. All of a sudden my attitude was transformed, and I said to those guys, “You better not let us catch you coming around here again!” I was a different person because I had great, big Bubba. I was ready to confront with resolve and firmness. I was released from anxiety and fear. I was filled with boldness and confidence. I was ready to help somebody that needed helping. I was ready to serve where serving was required. Why? Because I had a great, big Bubba. I was convinced that I was not alone. I was safe.


If I were convinced that Bubba were with me 24 hours a day, I would have a fundamentally different approach to my life. If I knew Bubba was behind me all day long, you wouldn’t want to mess with me. But he’s not. I can’t count on Bubba.


Again and again, the writers of Scripture pose this question for us: How big is your God? Again and again we are reminded that One who is greater than Bubba has come, and you don’t have to wonder whether or not he’ll show up. He’s always there. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to live your life in hiding. You have a great, big God, and he’s called you to do something, so get on with it!”[iii]


Glimpse the greatness of God. Submit to the greatness of God. And Trust in the Greatness of God. Let us pray.


[i] Adam Wears, “Ten Strange Ways of Measuring Stuff,” Listverse (1-29-13)

[ii] Mark Batterson, If (Baker Books, 2015), page 281

[iii] John Ortberg