God's guardian angels

We have a big assignment-but defending him isn't part of it

Issue: "Charity begins at home," May 16, 1998

As J.B. Phillips pointed out a generation ago, most people's God is far too small. That's one reason so many of us go around trying to defend him. The fact is, of course, that the God of the Bible is quite capable of defending himself. It's only after we've whittled and chiseled and carved him down to our size-the way unbelieving people always do with their self-constructed deities-that we end up with a god so puny that he needs our pitiful protection. This tendency to think we have to be God's guardian angels is evident in everything from the spelling out of our theology (which is not the primary focus of WORLD magazine) to the working out of our worldview (which is this magazine's key priority). Since worldview always flows from theology, however, it's worth looking at the link. In purely theological terms, you will see this propensity to rush to God's defense most often as people wrestle with the idea of a sovereign God. And let's admit it right up front: The implications of believing in a God who orders everything according to the delights of his own purposes are sometimes troubling to us people with brains that are relatively the size of peanuts. Unlike him, we don't see the big picture; we don't have the perspective to sort out the end from the beginning. The result is that we draw all kinds of wrong and ill-founded conclusions. It's a little bit like an early vintage pocket calculator trying to process the functions of a hundred late-model mainframe computers. Most people simply never come to terms with what the Bible clearly teaches: God is incredibly bigger than any of us can begin to imagine. While he chooses on occasion to operate in our dimension, his normal mode is to accomplish his purposes in dimensions we can barely glimpse, much less comprehend. So even on this theoretic, theological level we keep trying to redefine God. We keep trying to bring him down to our size. We do that because the here-and-now worldview that we tend to construct based on our senses doesn't fit conveniently with a straightforward belief in a biblically big God. Again and again, expedience and consistency tell us to whittle God down, to avoid the embarrassment of arguing that he is literally the kind of God the Bible affirms him to be, and to modernize him into something that fits our contemporary itsy-bitsy image of what he ought to be. For example:
As creator of the universe, in both its macro and micro expressions, God calls us to believe that he's big enough to have done so just the way we learned when we were children. Only as we grow up do we start to discover that we're expected to pare God down. Yes, we learn, he could have done it by the word of his power; but in fact he used a great number of intermediate processes. He could have done it in a short time; but in fact he took eons. Et cetera, et cetera. Question: If we stand around downplaying the miracle of creation in the Old Testament, why should we be surprised if other doubters shortchange the miracles of the New Testament? Including the literal resurrection. As sustainer of the universe, God calls us to believe that he makes no mistakes. That's hard enough to accept when you watch the ugly and sinful behavior among us that he tolerates. It's even harder to accept when you see the things God does himself-ordering a tornado to rip through an uninsured church, or planning that a baby be born with no legs. People in a sturdier age were unafraid to call these things "Acts of God." We tend to suppose we have to explain them away. As the one who sets the rules by which we live, God calls us to live by faith in his big plan, not by our limited sight. Given our cultural setting, it's hard for us to accept that God means for marriage to last for a lifetime. It's hard for us to trust quaint concepts like husbandly headship and wifely submission within marriage. It's hard for some to believe that a person who prefers intimacy with someone of his own gender is really precluded from living out that inclination. It's hard for us to believe he can prosper us financially after we take seriously his commands to be more generous than we have been in supporting his church and the poor and needy among us. But in all these areas-key aspects of our culture where worldview matters very much-we Christians are called on not to shrink God's patterns for our living, but to proclaim the greatness of their wisdom. Humanly hard to do? Of course. If it were humanly easy, there would be nothing very great about the God who made us, sustains us, and sets the rules for our lives.

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Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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