Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Transcendent God - II

Isaiah 55
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Let us take a moment and meditate on this statement. God is again speaking through his prophet Isaiah. He is "reasoning together" with his people, as the Old King James puts it.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
To what, exactly, is he comparing the earth? To the celestial heavens. No doubt he refers to the night sky, something with which the ancients were more familiar than most of us moderns.

How much higher are these "heavens" than the earth? How far away are they? The distance, my friends, is beyond comprehension. If we take just what we can see with the naked eye (and relative to the entirety of the universe this is not very far) it is still mind-boggling. Probably the most distant object observable by the naked eye is the Andromeda Galaxy which happens to be the nearest galaxy to ours. The Andromeda Galaxy is approximately 2.5 million light years away--just a short putt from us on this golf course known as "Universe." Travelling at 186,000 miles per second it would still take us 2.5 million years to get there.

Think about how much "higher than the earth" that is. That's how much higher God's thoughts are than our thoughts, God's ways than our ways. That's the comparison God makes to try to demonstrate to us the transcendency of his nature, his being. Thinking about this it is easy to see why we should never "liken" him to anything in creation. To do so only diminishes his glory.

Prayer: Our great Father, we ask that you humble us, that you forgive us for elevating ourselves, our wants, our desires, our thoughts, beyond what they really are, and at the same time esteeming you less than what you are. Help us to be in awe of you and to submit to you in every detail of our lives. As we grow in our knowledge of you, magnify yourself in our eyes. Show yourself mighty, we ask, in behalf of your own great name. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Transcendent God

Listen as the Spirit speaks through the prophet. Listen as the old prophet magnifies the name of God.

Isaiah 40:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

The question is rhetorical and the answer is God. The LORD, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel is much larger than we often imagine. We are small creatures, and to us, the universe we live in seems large, foreboding. You and I, thanks to the wonders of science, are much more aware of the size of our universe than was Isaiah some 3000 years ago. I once heard a cosmologist use the following analogy to help explain the scope and size of the universe we live in. He said that if one were to place a quarter on the sidewalk on a street corner in Manhattan, and that if this quarter represented the sun, then the next closest star system, Alpha Centauri, would be represented by a quarter placed on a sidewalk in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

That's quite a distance. And that's our nearest star. Now imagine a universe filled with billions of stars in millions of galaxies. Astronomers say there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of all the world.

Isaiah, can you measure these? Isaiah, can you know these things? Obviously, no. And neither can we, even in our age, actually measure these things with traditional implements. It is an impossibility. We cannot actually count the stars, neither can we even see them all. Ours is an educated estimate. But not only does God know, not only does he measure, but these things are small to him.

It is a way of saying that God is infinite, immeasurable. Not only are these things small to God, but he is intimately knowledgeable of them. He calls his stars by name.

Isaiah 40:
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

O LORD, teach us your transcendence. Remind us of it. Help us to see your greatness and, in seeing it, help us to recognize our smallness. Help us not to doubt you or your ability, but help us to trust you. Though we are small, and many, yet you call us by name and know us intimately. Praise your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Passionate Devotion

To be devotional with and in the Scriptures involves both the emotions and the intellect. Too many modern "devotionals" are merely shallow, emotional dribble. You may like chicken soup for the Christian soul. Wonderful. Please keep it to yourself over in the shallow end of the pool. I find it, frankly, annoying because it is shallow and, therefore, insulting. If we really want to have meaning to our devotional life we must go deeper.

The more we understand of the Scriptures, the more we understand about God. The more we understand about God, the greater our fear, awe, and need of him becomes. You may say you love Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors, but if you've never been inside and spent quality time enjoying each and every flavor, how much do you really love it? Maybe the truth is more like, "I like the vanilla that they sell at Baskin Robbins, but I don't really need to get into all those complicated flavors. Just give me the vanilla, thank-you."

We are too easily satisfied.

Most modern Christians think they know the Bible. They don't. I know this because I have spent thirty years passionately studying it and the more I learn the more I realize how much I do not yet know. Don't think that just because you know almost as much as your pastor that this makes you pretty knowledgeable and pretty much an elite. The truth is, your pastor is probably pretty ignorant himself, to the shame of us all.

I'm not knocking pastors. Certainly there are many who know a great deal, many who know a great deal more than I do. But, sadly, in our day they are the exception and not the rule. "My people perish for lack of knowledge" could have been written last week, or last month, or last year.

We need to know God, and if we are to know him it will involve the intellect as well as the emotions. We do not study God as a scientist might study the movement of molecular particles. We study him with zeal and passion and eager, emotional interest. Our hearts, our souls, our future, our joy is at stake. We want to know Him and we will never know Him without knowing his Word. But let us not forget that we must study Him if we are to know Him. We cannot divorce the intellect from our devotion.

So let us dive into his Word with a lust and a reverence like never before. Let us pore over it like Indiana Jones might pore over a map leading to an ancient Inca treasure city. And when we're done may we have a greater fear, and awe, and love, for God, and may we be able to say that we find our satisfaction in Him.