God In A Box

God does not contradict what He revealed about Himself

I’ve heard it before. Today’s traditional church has God tucked into a Bible-shaped box. Remember how Paul Young put it in The Shack?

Educated Westerners’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

Or how about the discussion over at Mike Morrell’s site more than a year ago when these kinds of things were bandied about:

Thereby, organized (“professional”) religions propagate themselves and ensure their future through fear and elitist ideations, which sadly inevitably result in keeping the Unlimited in a box – and usually for sale. Today, more than ever, religion is big business ($)!

Rob Bell said as much in his promotional video and talk show appearances when discussing his new book Love Wins. God is big enough to handle questions, he said. What’s more, the traditional church has the idea that there’s this narrow way across a chasm that leads to “evacuation” and only the chosen few or the ones who worked, served, believed, said the right prayer, or whatever “their tribe” mandated, would get the ticket. By implication, such beliefs confined God too.

It dawned on me this morning that these claims are spurious for the very fact that God IS in a box — one of His own making.

At first glance, that grates against our picture of a limitless God. And yet, I don’t think we’d want it any other way. I know I don’t.

For example, God “limits” Himself because He is good. James says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13b). He cannot be tempted by evil. Sounds quite limiting.

Then there are the limits imposed by His faithfulness. He says repeatedly in Deuteronomy that He will not fail or forsake His people.

In addition He limits Himself by His immutability. He remains the same today as He was before the creation of the world, as He will be when He comes to judge. No “learning” or evolving for God. He is who He is.

Or how about the limits of His love?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:38-39 [emphasis mine]

Sounds confining to me. Restrictive. Very “in a box.”

And what about the incarnation? Wasn’t that event God voluntarily putting Himself in a human-shaped box?

Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
– Philippians 2:6-7

How limiting was it for Him to go to a cross, for His body to be placed in a tomb, for Him to be dead for three days? We don’t even know what all that entailed, yet it’s clear He restrained His power and glory for a distinct purpose — His act of redemption that made it possible for me to be reconciled with Him.

So yes, I’ll gladly admit — I put God in a box, the one He has revealed about Himself. I won’t re-make Him into my own likeness or any other way of imagining Him (some of the Israelites had Him pictured like a golden calf). Anything other than what He’s told us is too small and quite frankly, dead wrong.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. And by the way – should you want to meet in person, or discuss these kinds of things with a diverse spectrum of Christians, you should come to the Wild Goose Festival. We’ll have an authors’ forum, and talks by novelists like my friend Elissa Elliot.

    See you there? 🙂

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  2. Another good one. TY
    Len

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  3. Amen!

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  4. Wow, Rebecca… I’m troubled by this one. Do you ever allow God to prove you wrong? Or is He stuck in your doctrinal box? I would fully agree with you that God is self-limiting for our benefit and His glory. He often clues us into His plan and methodology. But being ‘placed in a box’ indicates someone else holds the keys. I do not believe God is beholden to our limited understanding of His purposes. He simply, and authoritatively, demands we accept that He is good and holy, worship Him for it, and enjoy Him forever.

    Your twist on Romans 8:38-39 is mystifying to me. I can’t imagine reading it more differently from you. This passage is all about the LIMITLESSNESS of God’s love and the LIMITS of CREATION. Paul paints a canvas that wraps in the whole of creation – real or imagined, – and says EVEN ALL OF THIS is not able to come between us and God’s limitless love. “Nothing you can possibly imagine can ever eclipse of even dim God’s pure love light – bank on it!” he’s saying.

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  5. Ah, Bram, I appreciate your comment. This post is actually part of an ongoing “discussion” with Mike Morrell who posted the first comment here. I’ve been accused of putting God in a box because I believe He is who He says He is in the Bible, including a just judge who, yes, poured out His wrath on His enemies and who will one day bring retribution on those who reject Him.

    My point was that you can say He has put Himself in a box because He will love His own and not suddenly turn against them and start hating them or let something dissuade Him or convince Him to stop loving. In that regard, He is “limiting” Himself. And I’m glad, so glad He does.

    I don’t want God to be good today and maybe evil tomorrow, but to believe He is only good and will always only be good is, well, for lack of a better term, limiting. But thank God He is true to His character and doesn’t value His limitless quality over His other attributes.

    He is absolutely limitless in His love, in His grace, in His mercy, in His kindness, in His compassion, in His goodness and so on.

    He is not limitless in the sense that there is no end to His growth as a person. I. E. he does not evolve from the “tyrant god of the Old Testament” into the “nice Jesus of the New Testament” as some of those on the other side of the dialogue claim.

    Hope that clarifies my position.

    Becky

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  6. In the spirit of this article,

    An amazing man spreading the faith in an unconventional way throughout New York City!

    http://newyorkknowsbest.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/if-you-need-me-call-me-no-matter-where-you-are-no-matter-how-far/

    This cab driver is a Pastor!
    A great read!!!

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  7. Sarah, I can’t tell if your comment is for real or not. I read your article and honestly don’t see how it’s related to this post.

    Yes, I think it’s cool that there’s a pastor in New York who is driving cab in a way that sets him apart.

    I don’t know how that relates to a discussion about God’s character.

    Are you saying this pastor is showing God’s true nature by his acts of kindness? It certainly would seem so to me.

    And yet the article you wrote is so tangentially connected to this discussion, it’s hard for me to think you have a genuine interest in adding to the discourse.

    Sorry if I’m misreading your intentions. I’m leaving your comment up and responding in case I’m wrong. I hope I am.

    Becky

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