By Richard Ritenbaugh
—Corrie ten Boom
The fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12 reads, “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” A kind of New Testament spiritual parallel to this is found in Luke 11:2, the first verse in Luke’s version of the so-called “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus is instructing His disciples in how to pray: “So He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.'”
We all have or had physical fathers to honor, but as Christians, we sometimes fail to honor our far greater Father in heaven to the degree He justly deserves. Our spiritual Father is more important by far than our physical fathers because He is the One who not only provides for us and gives us so many blessings, but He is also the One who has called us out of this world and given us the opportunity to fulfill our incredible, eternal potential as His sons and daughters.
Jesus says that we are to hallow the name of our Father in heaven. The word is hagiazo in the Greek, and it means “to make holy,” “to sanctify,” or “to set apart.” Another definition, however, perhaps applies better to our subject here: “to show a difference from the common.” We all have our common, human fathers. They are all men—some better, some worse, but still human every one—yet we have only one Father who is truly holy. He comprises an entirely different category from our ordinary human fathers.
Despite being made in God’s image, our physical fathers are nonetheless created beings, full of flaws and deficiencies. As a father myself, I count myself among those full of flaws and deficiencies. Yet, we have a heavenly Father who is vastly different and uncommon—a great Father who is so much more and better than any man, any father, no matter how great he may be.
Even so, we should not focus exclusively on God as a father. Instead, we need to consider the wider concept that we have a God who is different from the common because this relates to how we view God in general in our everyday lives—in our everyday relationship with Him—because He is not just a father.
Of course, that is how He is introduced to us by Jesus Christ, one of whose purposes in coming as a man was to reveal the Father (John 1:18). However, just as a human dad engages in more than parenting, “Father” is just one of God’s hats, so to speak. One’s father is a father, certainly, but he may also be a carpenter, a plumber, a salesman, a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. He may also be a hunter or a fisherman, and he may be a ballplayer, a golfer, a tennis player, a card player, or a sailor. He might like to tinker on cars, or he could be a skeet shooter. He may be a poet, a playwright, a stamp collector, a gardener, a model railroader, or a woodcrafter. He may fly planes for a living and skydive occasionally. Throughout a long life, he may do a few or many of these things.
For the same reason, God is not a one-dimensional figure either. He is not just a wonderful Father, but He is also Designer, Creator, Life-giver, Law-giver, Provider, and Supreme Judge. He is sovereign over all there is. He gives, reveals, works out prophecy, answers prayers, and heals sickness. He works in world events, in church events, and in individual lives, calling, forgiving, granting repentance, justifying, sanctifying, and ultimately glorifying. One may have never thought of Him in this way, but He is undoubtedly the universe’s supreme geologist, biologist, botanist, chemist, physicist, mathematician, linguist, historian, writer, and author—among multitudes of other areas of expertise.
When we look at God as though He has only one job or is interested in only one narrow aspect of life, we lose sight of how wonderful He is, how expansive His mind is, how talented He is, and how intelligent, creative, and powerful He is. We have a truly exalted and almighty God who will not be pigeon-holed into one little niche that we have labeled and defined as “God.” He is so much more! His mind is so majestic and His power so wonderful that our little minds cannot grasp their magnitude, but we must do our best to understand as much of His greatness as we can so that we can truly know Him, what He is, and what He does.
As limited, self-focused human beings, we have a huge problem with this. The primary reason for this is that all we know revolves around profoundly inadequate human traits, strengths, perspectives, and standards, all of which are physical, finite, and tinged with the corruption of human nature. We make the mistake of comparing everything with ourselves or with the common, average person, and sometimes even the “best” person (see II Corinthians 10:12).
If we are trying to improve ourselves, we oftentimes set as a standard another person who is doing what we want to be able to do, and then we work toward rising to his level of competence. With God, however, we cannot do that; He is not comparable to any man (Isaiah 40:18; 46:5). Yet, making such comparisons is the only way we know how to gauge our spiritual progress, and thus we gain some idea of it by taking an unblinkered look at man and then comparing him to God. This is actually hard to do. Our minds can only grasp but a thin sliver of what God is and does. We are just so earthbound, tied to what we see and know, which is almost entirely material, terminal, and tainted by sin.
God says of this comparison: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). There is indeed a great gulf between Him and us. We are stuck here on earth, and we think almost exclusively on earthly things. God’s thoughts, though, are always in the heavens, as it were, concentrated on spiritual things. To give us some measure of understanding, that is how He describes the vast difference between Himself and us. It appears to be an unbridgeable gap.
When we go outside in the dark of night and gaze into the sky, we can see thousands of stars wheeling about the heavens, and we know that astronomers tell us that each star is many light-years away. If He can create something so far away to give us light here on earth, then He must be a great God. In this way, we catch a glimpse of how far superior to us God is. Even so, that physical comparison does not really do Him justice, for there is also a spiritual chasm between God and us that is light-years wide and light-years deep. In our carnal state, this chasm cannot be overcome. Only through the work of God who became a Man, Jesus Christ, is there any hope of seeing God as He really is (I John 3:2).
What the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 2:6-11 tells us plainly that the human mind cannot truly grasp the greatness of God:
However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.
In man’s carnal state, he does not have what it takes to understand God or what He is working out among men. An unconverted mind can catch only a fleeting glimpse of the grandeur and greatness of God. Those who have God’s Spirit are allowed a better view, a closer, more exact view of what God is, what He is doing in their lives, and what His purpose is. Yet, even this view has its limits. As Paul says elsewhere, we have been given only an earnest or down payment of the Spirit as a guarantee (II Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; see also Ephesians 1:14). We certainly do not know everything—in fact, only a fraction—about God.
The apostle writes of this in the context of agape love in I Corinthians 13:9-11: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. . . .” In comparison to God, that is how we speak, understand, and think, like children, and truly, to Him we are undeniably mere children. All of the things that we know about God and His purpose are similar to what toddlers know about adultsand their plans. As the toddler is to the adult, so are adults to God—but the gap is exponentially greater.
Paul continues the comparison in I Corinthians 13:11-12: “. . . but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then [when we are perfected] face to face [that is, we will have full, personal knowledge; I John 3:2]. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” So, just as God knows us inside and out now, we will then be able to know what He knows.
What a mind-expanding concept! When we are glorified at Christ’s coming, we will be inundated with the intricate and expansive knowledge of God, and thankfully, we will have a spirit body and mind to be able to take it! What God knows is beyond all comprehension to man; it takes a God-being to store, comprehend, and utilize it. As Paul explains, our knowledge is only partial right now, obscured by a fog in which we see snatches of reality as the clouds drift past, but then we become engulfed by the fog again and fail to grasp all that God reveals.
Paul uses the metaphor of seeing in a mirror. The mirrors produced today—a piece of clear glass over a highly reflective mercury backing—create near-perfect reflections. We receive a precise image of what we look like when we look into one. Not so in New Testament times, when the common mirror was a piece of polished bronze or brass or some other metal. Chrome, which is highly reflective, was not available to them. Thus, the common mirror in those days produced only a dim reflection, probably good enough to comb one’s hair, but a person had a difficult time seeing anything in detail.
This is what Paul is referring to. What we can comprehend of God is a dim reflection, foggy, dark, and obscured. Perhaps we can relate to this by looking at ourselves in a mirror that has been fogged by a hot shower. Until the humidity decreases, all we can see is a fuzzy-looking image staring out of the mirror. The reflection falls far short of the reality.
Isaiah 40—which contains a well-known challenge by God: “To whom then will you liken Me? Or to whom shall I be equal?” (verse 25)—continues this theme. A few earlier verses provide us something to ponder regarding how great God is: “O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!'” (Isaiah 40:9). In a way, this series of essays is attempting to do just this. God continues:
Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. . . . Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:10, 12)
How much water can a person hold in the palm of his hand? Less than a cup, perhaps a few tablespoons. God’s hand, though, holds all of the water on the face of the earth! We humans are puny folk! A span is the width of a splayed hand, from thumb-tip to pinky-fingertip, roughly nine inches long. Yet, God measures the entire universe in the span of one hand! We have a big God! These verses tell us that He has a measuring cup that will hold all the dirt—all the matter—of the earth. He also owns a pair of scales that can weigh all the earth’s hills and mountains.
We know that God is not gargantuan in actual size, for God made us in His image and likeness. He came as a normal-sized Man. We are to understand from this section’s hyperbole that our God is so much greater than we are that He is without comparison. While it is difficult to convey in words how much greater God is, we can observe what He can do—andGod is gigantic in His works! He has absolute power, and He can bring whatever He desires to pass.
Isaiah 40:13-14 show that He not only has absolute power, but He has unfathomable intelligence and wisdom. Nobody has taught Him or instructed Him how to create because He already knows everything. We, certainly, cannot tell Him anything. As Paul says in I Corinthians 1:25, even “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” So, if we ever imagine that we bring anything to the table, we should humbly reconsider!