God: Ineffable, Incomprehensible, and full of mystery

Scriptures: Job 11:7-11; Romans 11:33-36

We like boxes. When we move – which I did a lot, growing up, being an Air Force brat, I moved twelve times before I was eighteen years old – we put everything neatly in box, and neatly labeled it. And that was probably the only time our house was neat.

We use file boxes. We eat boxed lunches. We receive and ship packages in boxes. We wrap presents in boxes. We organize our shelves by putting items in boxes. The “Container Store” specializes in charging you lots of money for boxes of various sizes. We even have a toy and a restaurant both called “Jack in the Box.”

Boxes give us a sense of control and organization. If I have it in a box, and I have it labeled just so, then I know exactly what I have. It is empowering. Take it out of my box and I begin to feel anxious. I begin to feel out of control. I begin to feel that I’m controlled by what should be in the box, instead of me controlling it. So, I quickly work to get it right back into the box.

It is not surprising then that our compulsion to have things under control, to have a sense of predictability, compels us to try to put God in a box. We like the idea of winding the little handle and out comes God just as we expect him. We create boxes in our mind of what God can and cannot do, of who He is and what He is like.

We want to know that we can predict what He might do next. He conveniently fits into our lifestyle. And isn’t it amazing how often He happens to approve the choices we make. The problem is that the god in our box bears little resemblance to the God living outside our box.

We end up worshiping our own image of God, instead of recognizing that it He who made us in His image not vice versa. We rob ourselves of the wonderment of serving and worshiping a God that is beyond anything we could ever imagine. We never know what it is like to give up being god of our own lives and to let an uncontainable God have free reign in our hearts.

Let me ask you, what would happen if we gave up the god of our box for the God outside our box? Dare we venture to find out?

In the passage today from the book of Job, Zophar the Naamatite, rebuked Job by what he said about “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?  Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” You know, some people say “With friends like those, who needs enemies?”

It appears that Zophar is asking some sarcastic questions of Job and certainly when you have a God who is infinite and transcendent beyond our abilities to comprehend you face the question which verse 8 ends with, “What can you know?” The reality is that God wants you to have a true and tremendous amount of knowledge about Him. You will never have a complete knowledge of God, but God ultimately wants us to know Him.

Now, God makes Himself known to us in a variety of ways that fall into two main categories. I’m going to throw some fifty-cent seminary kind of terminology at you here: General Revelation and Special Revelation.

General Revelation is available to all, Christian and non-Christian alike. This type of revelation will only give you a general knowledge of God. Everyday in the world around us we can see the glory and power of our Creator.

Psalm 19:1-4 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Let me tell you that anyone who tries to tell you that science and the world around us disprove the presence or reality of God, or a creator, doesn’t know his science or math. As many of you know, hopefully all of you know, as a second-career pastor, my first career was in molecular biology.

In mathematics, there has come to be a whole discipline labeled “Chaos Theory,” which my Bible study has heard about before, as I got into a passionate rabbit trail one day for probably most of the hour. I won’t keep you that long today.

Engineers and physicists use math to make predictions, but all their predictions are based on what are known as “perfect equations”. The thing is, these perfect equations don’t describe real life. Oh, they are good enough for mankind to do some amazing things, but nature is sooo much messier.

The real equations describing the weather patterns, turbulence, line signal strength, and so many other things, are called “Chaotic Equations.”  When you punch a number in, take that result, and punch that into the equation, etc., after a short time you get chaos. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.

bifurcation equation

Slide 1

But there is an interesting phenomena that has been discovered. Now we can look at our first slide. This is a bifurcation equation. Each answer is a little different, and linear for a while. But then it splits between two sets of numbers, and again, and again, you see the back and forth, that sort of parabolic shape, and then that splits again, each one of those. Until finally, you get chaos and you can’t predict where on the map it is going to go next.

But wait. Look at the image closely. Suddenly – unpredictably – there is a single line, if you look at the white bar, there’s a single line there again. Order out of chaos. Now why should we care about this particular mess of forking lines, and random dots?

Well, because of this, Slide 2 (shows a diagram of the human circulatory system). That particular equation describes your circulatory system, and explains how you can get such an ordered breakdown from artery to arteriole to capillary, and all the sizes in between.

A mathematician named Mandelbrot came up with a set of equations that lit the world on fire back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Mind you, not the science world, but the commercial one – because color pictures of his equations looked so cool!

Mandelbrot set

Slide 3

I remember calendars that would have pictures like these, and fractal designs on them. But the amazing thing about them is if you look at that giant black area in the center that funky little shape, and then you magnify the image a million million times, going through a series of new and equally cool designs, you find, when you get to that little black spots in the center of each of those little curlicues – you find exactly the same thing that you started with. Each of those little black dots in the color of that picture is the same thing as the large one that we can see here. There is order in the chaos of this system.

One of my favorites is next. If you take a certain equation, start with any number, punch it into the equation, take that answer and feed it into the equation, etc., you never know where the next dot is going to be placed by your dot matrix printer. But in the end, you always end up with the same pattern. That is the fern leaf. No matter what number you start with, you end up with a fern leaf.

fern generator

Slide 4

Some people posit that this is how DNA works to create us from just four base pairs. Note that no one yet has been able to figure out WHY these equations work. They just know that if you start with it, you will end up with a certain pattern, with things falling within a certain set of boundaries. You can’t predict what is coming next within those boundaries, but you can usually predict what won’t be possible.

Once again, there is order in chaos. I would think that if nothing else points to the presence and reality of God, I don’t know what does! I just love the idea of a black box, where they can’t predict what happens, but they recognize there is some order that is higher than they can figure out right now, that is controlling the output of what comes.

And it is something everyone can access, and something most people today would like to ignore. Yes, creation itself gives a general revelation of the reality of God. Maybe not the specifics of His nature, or who He is, but the fact of His presence and His power.

From General Revelation, in fact, we as adults should be able to come to certain knowledge about God and creation. First of all, we should recognize:

  • That the World and the Universe had a Creator
  • That God left a witness(or testimony) behind for us, with ongoing things such as rain and produce – and fern leaves
  • That He is a lawgiver and has rules – requirements which the Bible says are written on our hearts

We should instinctively get some things right – if only we wanted to…

You would hope that this General Revelation would be enough to get folks to look at the second type of revelation, which is called Special Revelation.  Special Revelation of God is given in many ways. We receive revelation about God in three main forms.

First, God reveals Himself non-verbally. (We have dreams and visions of people in the Bible. Isaiah saw God on His throne and said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

The second form of Special Revelation is God revealing Himself in words. God has spoken in our Bible: Matthew 3:17; the Ten Commandments given to Moses in Deuteronomy 4; the Gospels themselves.

The third way in which God gives special revelation is through His personal visible presence, which has occurred two ways. (And I’m about to give you another two-dollar seminar word.) In the form of a theophany (which simply means a visit from God, or God’s presence), like the pillar of fire and smoke that led the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years, or the three men that met Abraham and had dinner with him.

Or the angel of the Lord who visited Gideon, and Gideon fell down on his face and said he should die, for he had seen God. And then in the New Testament we have the Incarnation. This is where the Logos (God the Son) became present in the world as the person of Jesus of Nazareth. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and nothing that was created was created without Him.”

It is in Jesus that we see the very image of God, and begin – just begin! – to understand the depths of His love for us. It was so overwhelming, that Paul, who had seen Jesus in his risen form personally and up close, breaks into a doxology that talks about the amazing, ineffable, indescribable nature and glory of God.

All he could do was give worship and praise. Paul was moved to worship after contemplating the weightiest matters of God. It is as if Paul himself is admitting that he has written about things beyond him. This doxology could not be more appropriately placed.

But if we are ever going to arrive to the height of worship this text call us to, then we must be willing to step out of own boxes. You see, it isn’t really God that was in our boxes, just our own preconceptions. He would never submit to such a thing.

If the majestic temple of Solomon couldn’t contain him, if the entire universe cannot encompass all of his glory, then how can we think that God is so small as to fit into our boxes? Yet this is how we act, when we act like we are in charge of our lives completely. When we think we have all the answers.

It is amazing to me how often we say with certainty what God will do or not do, when we are told plainly “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord” Yes, we can affirm that God cannot lie, or that He is always faithful and holy, because God is who He always is.

He is consistent with His nature, but often our notions of what God will or won’t do is really driven by a need to remain in control of our own world. This is what we must give up, if we are truly to see Him for who he is.

“Our God is so big, so strong, and so mighty; there’s nothing my God cannot do…for you.”How many of you all remember that song from Sunday School or camp? Isn’t it amazing that kids don’t put God in a box? They have nothing to fear by conceiving of God as bigger than we could ever imagine. A young child doesn’t care if you are talking about the moon or a cement truck; God made it! He has no reason to think otherwise.

Some say, “God can’t heal someone who is terminally ill.” Says who?Earlier today, one of the people at Morning Sun gave praise for a joy, for having been ten years cancer-free. But it is also just as wrong to say, “If you name it and claim it, God has to heal him.” Says who? God will be God.

You might say, “God can never change my spouse.” The god in your box may not be able to, but the one outside your box can change your spouse, and, more importantly, change you, too. Here is another good one! “God can never bring about change in the church.” Really? We could go on and on. You see, God can and will do exactly as He intends to do. Our response should be obedience and worship.

That word “depth” in verse 36 probably goes with all three nouns, “riches, wisdom, and knowledge.” How deep is the ocean? Not deeper than God’s riches. How vast is the Grand Canyon? Not vaster than the wisdom of God. How expansive is the Milky Way? Not as expansive as His knowledge and glory.

You want to get into God’s mind? Good luck, because his ways cannot be tracked. We think we can give God advice on how to run this world, and our lives? And think about how often we have commiserated among ourselves. Inevitably someone says, “You know, if things were only run the way that I think they should go, then it would be so much better for the world.”

Tell me, did God need Abraham to have a child with his handmaiden to fulfill His promise? Abraham forgot the depths of the riches, knowledge, and wisdom of God. He tried to take a short cut, and it has cause never-ending strife since. When we do the same, we often feel that we need to help God out and give Him advice.

Or maybe we even come under the delusion that we have done so much for God that He owes us something. Yet we owe our very existence to God. Every gift we have is from the gracious bounty of the riches of God. He is the source of all things. He is the Sustainer. And all exists for His purposes and pleasure. You see, it is when we lift our eyes to this view of God that we can finally say, “Here I am to worship” and, with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”

All we really have to do is obey and worship. There is no greater joy than to give up our god in a box and worship the God who is beyond comprehension, yet who has graciously made Himself known to us, most intimately through his Son. It should bring you to your knees, and bring tears to your eyes, and send chills down your spine, to think of being in the presence of this God.

It will stir in you a feeling of great humility and gratitude to recognize that you can spend as much time as you wish with such a wonderful God. It will penetrate your heart so that you will recoil at the very idea of going back to your god in a box.

You will know that a God who has already revealed his mercy in such a profound way can be trusted with all that we are, and then your whole life will become never-ceasing worship to him. You know, like the song we sang last week, “In the Stars His handiwork I see”, it ends “He’s everything to me.”

That’s the kind of worship we are talking about. It is the only kind of worship that will do for a God who is so great. Anything less just shows that we worship the god in a box. I invite you to worship the God outside your box today.

There is great joy and freedom in recognizing that God has it all under control. We don’t have to figure out everything. We just need to figure out who is God. We don’t have to run our own lives and fret about everybody else’s life. We don’t have to figure out everyone who’s going to heaven or hell.

It’s God’s plan of salvation. We can let him “have mercy on whom he will have mercy,” as the Scripture says. Really all that we have to do is surrender our lives in obedience and worship to Him. That’s the life of a disciple. It is the life that rejoices in allowing God to be God.

It is certainly not an accident that the very next words that come in Romans, after the passage that was read, are “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Let God take care of the details. If you have not given your life to the God who is beyond anything that we could ever imagine, I hope and pray that you will today, so that you too can experience the freedom and the joy of knowing the unknowable God. You can call upon the name of the Lord today and join the people of God in never-ceasing worship. And may your very lives give Him the honor and praise.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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