An interesting publishing trend I’ve noticed in the past few years is an abundance of religious books with the word “little” in the title, like this one I’m now making up: God’s Little Book for Harried Unicyclists. Similar titles exist for almost any niche group you might name.
I understand why these tiny tomes are popular. Frazzled people search for quick, downloadable inspiration easily incorporated into busy lives. We’ve all sought the shortcut insight, including yours truly.
But, please. There is nothing “little” about God.
Life with God requires ample time for honest reflection concerning daily and problematic enigmas, or else we lapse into easy sentiment and a superficial faith about as deep as a pizza pan. If Christians are weaned on a God who is diminutive, manageable and always affirming, we’ll have a hard time addressing the many questions in our lives that have no easy answers.
Thomas Merton (1915-68), the Roman Catholic monk and writer, once said: “If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God that you have found.”
Watch closely for the ponderous questions in the Bible. We who sometimes desire quick-fix answers to our problems might benefit from sitting with the questions for a while instead of attempting a rush toward unambiguous clarity that often doesn’t exist.
There is a wonderful question embedded in Psalm 8 that thoughtful people have asked in one form or another for millennia. No real answer to this question is ever given. It sits there in the body of the psalm and echoes around all the evening hours of the writer. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them …?” (8:3-4).
Recall the last time you stretched out on a high mountain, open meadow or warm blanket in your backyard and looked up at endless space dotted with a million points of light. This exercise never fails to quiet me. The problems I’ve carried around all day are silenced for a while and given fresh perspective.
We are like ants hugging a small rock, hurtling at mind-boggling speed through inconceivable vastness and time impossible to measure. Think about that for very long and it will take your breath away. Self-importance is brought down to size.
This is a great and important theological learning. I’m forced to consider my relative place. The world, apparently, truly doesn’t revolve around me and my needs.
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), a paleontologist, once compared the length of recorded human history to what he calls “the king’s yard”—the distance between the royal shoulder and the tip of his middle finger. This distance represents (symbolically) all of geologic time. Gould suggests that if one were to take a nail file and make a single swipe across the king’s middle fingernail, the minute nail droppings that reached the floor would represent the amount of time humans have existed on this planet.
We are passengers, transient and temporary, who board life on earth for a limited and fleeting ticket of time that can be measured by a blink. “A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone,” sings the church.
The psalmist’s ancient question invites other questions of profound, life-changing depth. Why am I here for this short period of time? What is my purpose? How shall we live together in this world for such a little while?
We direly need the perspective of size before the vastness of God. To know our place fosters a proper humility—life with limits, boundaries and intention.
And yet, Augustine (354-430) said this same God and author of the cosmos “loves each one of us as if there is only one of us to love.”
The mystery of God requires holding both truths in balance: A transcendent creator who fills those who take time to notice with healthy awe and a proximate, nearby savior as close as the chalice on an altar.