February 24, 2002

TOO MUCH TO BELIEVE

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:6

I am under constant surveillance. Someone is watching me every minute of the day. He sees when I sit down and when I stand up. He sees when I leave my house in the morning and when I go to bed at night. He knows my habits and has a record of everything I do. He knows the way I talk and keeps track of every word I say. He even knows the way I think. Somehow he gets right inside my head. He knows me so well that he knows what I’m going to say even before I say it.

No matter which way I turn, he’s always there. When I move ahead, he’s in front of me. When I think of turning around, he’s behind me. I can’t get away from him. No matter where I go, he’s always there first. If I go up into the sky and fly at 35,000 feet, he’s in the airplane with me. If I plunge down to the bottom of the sea in a submarine, he’s down there too. If I pack up all my things and cross the ocean and settle on the other side of the world, he’s sure to be there, tracking my every move.

If I turn off the lights and keep the curtains drawn, he still sees me. He sees in the dark as well as the daytime. I’m under constant surveillance, and I can’t escape it.

I’m not paranoid. I’m not talking about a stalker or a secret agent. I’m not talking about someone who watches me with infrared equipment for night vision, or who listens to me with hidden microphones, or who keeps a data bank of information about me in a computer, or who consults a panel of psychologists to explain the way I think and predict my future behavior. I’m talking about Someone who keeps track of me without the help of gadgets or experts. I’m talking about God.

The Bible reveals God as everywhere-present and all-knowing. In Psalm 139 King David speaks of how the Lord watches his every move, understands his every thought, and knows what he’s going to say even before he says it. He asks God, “Where can I flee from your presence?” David says that whether he soars high in the sky or plunges down into the deep or moves to the most distant place, God is always there. In fact, says David, every day of his life was written in God’s book even before his first day came to be. God isn’t just observing and keeping track of things after they happen; he already has a complete plan worked out ahead of time.

Now, isn’t that too much to believe? How can God know what you’re thinking every moment of the day? And even if he can keep track of your thoughts, how can he keep track of all the thoughts of more than five billion different people? And just supposing he manages that, how can he possibly know every thought we think even before we think it, every word we say even before we say it, every deed we do even before we do it? How can God know all that ahead of time? And if God does know all that and if he has it all figured into a plan that he’s already worked out ahead of time, how can we make any real choices? Aren’t we just robots behaving the way we’ve been programmed?

Well, I’ll put it bluntly: God is too much to believe. Skeptic and Christian agree on that. The difference between the skeptic and the Christian is this: The skeptic stops short of believing, while the Christian goes beyond believing. The skeptic won’t believe anything that’s too much for him to understand. The Christian, however, believes and then goes beyond believing to worship and marvel at a God who is too much for us to figure out. When confronted with the mind-boggling reality of the God who is present everywhere, who knows everything, and who works all things according to his plan and purpose, the skeptic keep objecting, “How?” The Christian keeps exclaiming, “Wow!”

“How?” or “Wow!”

Are you amazed and awestruck by God? Or do you find it hard to believe what the Bible says about him? If you’re skeptical, is it because you think that what the Bible says about God isn’t logical? Or is it perhaps because you want to be your own person and you can’t bear to think that God is everywhere you go and knows everything you do and think? Maybe you’re skeptical for both reasons: in your mind you can’t believe something that you can’t figure out or fit together; and in your heart, you can’t afford to believe anything that might ruin your privacy and your right to do what you please. If you were really to believe, you’d have to do more than believe. You’d have to go beyond belief. You’d have to worship and obey, and you’d rather not do that.

If you think God is too much to believe, I agree with you. You can’t respond to God simply by believing he’s there and filing that fact away in a tidy compartment of your mind. God is too much to fit neatly into your mental structures. But that doesn’t mean you should stop short of believing him and be a skeptic. Instead, you should believe and then go beyond belief to amazement, trust, and transformation. If you are at all in touch with God’s reality, he overflows all your ways of thinking and overwhelms your entire being.

The reality of God isn’t merely something to be believed but to be marveled at. This shines through in what David says in Psalm 139. David has no idea how God can keep track of so many different things at the same time, or how he can know what we’re thinking, or how he can know the future. But that doesn’t stop David from believing; it moves him beyond belief, to amazement and worship. He says to God, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, to lofty for me to attain” (v. 6). When he reflects on the mysterious and marvelous way God made him, he exclaims, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (v. 14). When he thinks of how God knows the future and planned every day of his life even before he was born, he exclaims, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (v. 17-18).

Instead of doubting God’s mind-boggling powers, David expresses awe and worship. Instead of demanding an explanation of how God does it, David says Wow! at what God does. Instead of resenting God’s constant presence, David rejoices in it. Instead of trying to escape God’s searching eye, David actually invites God to keep searching him and to show him anything that’s amiss in his life and to lead in him God’s everlasting way. At the end of Psalm 139 he prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Instead of insisting that God be in line with the way he thinks, David prays that the way he thinks be brought in line with God.

There are so many things about God that stagger our minds. How could he bring an entire universe into being out of nothing? How could he make creatures like us who think and make choices–and how can those choices be genuine if they are all part of his eternal plan? How can God be in touch with all of us at once?

Taking this even further, how could a Jewish carpenter born 2,000 years ago be true God and true man? How could the death of this divine carpenter mean eternal life for millions? How could this Jesus rise from the dead, and how will his second coming bring about a transformation of the entire universe? How can I even imagine what the new creation will be like? With the biblical writer, I say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Instead of getting bogged down in demanding to know how, I exclaim, “Wow!” Instead of refusing to believe, I go beyond believing and exclaim, “How great thou art!”

Mind-Boggling But Real

The Bible is full of revelation from God that is too much to believe. You can’t analyze God then say, “Okay, now I’ve got him all figured out,” and calmly file your belief away in your brain. You either have to shut your eyes to God, or else be overwhelmed and amazed by him.

Just take the simple question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Think about that, and it’s enough to blow your mind. People who supposedly know all sorts of things about the world are dumbfounded by the simple question why there is something instead of nothing, and yet the one-word answer is, “God!” Even a child could tell you that! Some grownups find it hard to believe that God brought the universe into existence out of nothing. But is it easier to believe that nothingness suddenly went “Bang!” and turned into something? The truth is that everything from starfish to stars, from quarks to quasars, is planned and powered by God.

The world God made is staggering in its beauty and complexity. The more we know about it, the more we realize how much we don’t know. A century ago, the diagram of a cell was fairly simple. A few decades later, the diagram was much more complex. Today’s diagrams are so complicated it almost blows your mind. And the process of discovery still isn’t over. A Christian biologist recently wrote of how he is inspired to awe and worship when he looks at cell diagrams. Hosts of brilliant minds, working for decades, still don’t have the full picture of what just one cell involves. What sort of Genius could come up with such a design? And how can he keep track and remain in charge of every cell in every living thing on this planet?

God staggers the mind, and God’s handiwork staggers the mind. It may be tempting to say you’re not going to believe in a God you can’t figure out, but then why should you believe anything else? There’s hardly anything in God’s world that people have figured out completely, so why expect to be able to figure out God himself? Almost everything around you, if you really look into it, is an impossible wonder–and yet it’s real. The simplest cell in the human body is so complex that scientists still don’t have it figured out–but our bodies are real. The nature of light, whether it’s a particle or wave or something else entirely, is still a mystery–but light is real. The basic building blocks of the physical universe are so mysterious that scientists keep probing further and further. First the atom was said to be the smallest and most basic. Then it was protons and electrons and neutrons. Then it was quarks. And physicists still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the matter–but matter is real.

The world is a marvel and a mystery and a reality–and the world’s Creator is infinitely more marvelous and mysterious and real. The Bible says, “I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning” (Ecclesiastes 8:17). We can’t figure God’s world out completely, so there’s absolutely no way we’ll ever figure God out completely. But that just means that God is more than we understand, not less.

Some of us think we’d find it a lot easier to believe in God if we just had a clear explanation for why he does what he does. If you’re a skeptic and you’ve got some tough questions, there may be answers for some of them. But you probably don’t need more answers nearly as much as you need a new attitude. God can’t be studied or evaluated by a skeptic, for a skeptic insists on believing only the minimum, and God is more than the maximum of what our minds can grasp. Because God is more than the maximum, he can be known only in a spirit of trust and awe.

You may wonder how God can plan all things and direct them according to his purposes and how at the same time people make real choices and are responsible to God for the path they choose. If it all depends on God, you might ask, “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” That question comes up in the Bible, but how does the Bible respond? “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:19-20). The Lord tells us enough so let us know he’s in charge and also that we are responsible. But he doesn’t explain how those two things fit together, and he doesn’t want any back talk. This doesn’t mean we can’t think about and explore these truths, but it does mean that skepticism and a big mouth won’t get us nearly as far as humble faith and awe at what God says.

According to the Bible, God has a great plan for history which includes his dealings with different nationalities and individuals. God judges and hardens some people, and he softens and saves others. If I start to gripe about this, God’s answer is to say, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” It would be wiser for me to be like the biblical writer, who accepts God at his Word and then goes beyond explanation and beyond belief to awestruck praise:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Getting Personal

Let’s get personal. I’ve talked the last few minutes about God’s astonishing creation and his mysterious workings in history, but let’s get back to the mystery of God’s constant presence in our individual lives, and let’s also talk about his presence in Jesus Christ. Here is where God is really too much to believe. Here, especially, the reality of God meets us in a way that we can’t merely believe. We must either react against God or be transformed by God.

A God who is always present, all-knowing, and all-powerful–how can anybody simply believe in such a God? You either have to stop short of believing and try to ignore him, or else you have to go beyond believing and give him his due. One thing you can’t do is simply believe that the living God is right where you are, knowing you and shaping your destiny–and then pretend that it makes no difference. You must either reject him, or else fall down and worship him, and trust and obey him.

There is one other option, I suppose. Instead of utterly rejecting God or adoring him, you can find a god who fits your own standards, who thinks pretty much the way you think and who acts pretty much the way you expect him to act. That way you won’t be an atheist: you can still believe in a god and feel religious without having your mind shaken or your life changed. But that is idolatry. Many of us would rather have a sensible, manageable idol than deal with the living God of the Bible who is too great to fit our ideas and expectations.

But the God who is too much to believe is the only God there is. His constant presence will either disturb us so much that we can’t afford to believe in him, or else his presence will awe and comfort us so much that we will worship and trust and love and obey him. This becomes even more clear when we think of how God is present to us in the sacrifice of Christ and in his gospel call to repent and receive pardon and enter a new life.

This is truly too much to believe: that God became a man in Jesus and that he died to save not good people but bad people. After a radio program in which I spoke of how Jesus died for sinners, someone who heard the program wrote me and said, “God help us if you’re right. Then Jesus died for the guilty sinner, not for the just. Though I may go to hell, I feel sorry for Christ who suffered for guilty sinners who don’t deserve it.” This person finds the gospel too much to believe. It blows his mind to think that Christ would suffer for the guilty, and at the same time, it offends his ego to think that he himself is so guilty that nothing less than Jesus’ blood could save him. He finds the whole idea of God saving the guilty to be ridiculous.

But in the Bible God invites us, guilty sinners, to seek him and call on him. In Isaiah 55 the Lord says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (v. 7). When God makes that promise, he knows that it doesn’t fit human logic, and so he goes on to say, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (v:8‑9).

The God who forgives the wicked, the Jesus who died for the guilty, is too much to believe. You either have to stop short of believing and say it’s crazy to think he died for the ungodly, or else you have to go beyond merely believing and confess that you’re one of the ungodly for whom he died and then thank him and worship him and love the One who gave his life for you.

If you ask me how one person’s death can bring forgiveness to millions, I can’t explain it. But I know that it does, because God says so. And I know that in Christ God is able to do more than all we ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

God’s constant surveillance–this truth is so simple that a child knows it means God is always right there with us, and yet it is so mind-boggling that a genius can’t figure out how God does it. Likewise, God’s salvation through Jesus–it’s so simple that a child can receive forgiveness and eternal life by faith, and yet no preacher can explain exactly how it works.

Constant surveillance and complete salvation–do these realities of the living God fill you with skepticism or with a sense of awe? May God’s Holy Spirit move you to trust and worship and obey this God and Savior who is too much to believe.

PRAYER

Lord, you search me and you know me; you love me and forgive me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; your greatness no one can fathom. Help me to live each moment in awe of your majesty, in the comfort and challenge of your nearness, and in the assurance of your forgiving love. Lead me in the way everlasting, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.