THE GOD BEYOND OUR DICTIONARY
In his book, Human Destiny, Lecomte du Nouy wrote, “If we could really conceive God we could no longer believe in Him because our representation, being human, would inspire us with doubts.”
If we created a God we could comprehend, then we would certainly create in our minds doubts about His being. If we are to believe in a God, then certainly this God must exceed our understanding. It is easy for an atheist to be such since he has created a god after his own imagination. He first creates the god, then he denies such because he knows that his god is no greater than his mind. At least the atheist is honest with himself. He says he does not believe in a god who is limited to his own thinking.
The true God is beyond our thinking. He is beyond our full understanding simply because He is God. We are men. What if we attempted to relate to you the experience of a desert? You have probably never been there. We have. So what would we say? How would we verbally involve you in our desert experience? We would struggle to convey to you through the inadequacies of words our personal desert experience. In using words for which you have little “desert definitions,” we would have to resort to metaphors. We must take those words you have defined by your own experiences and wrap them around our personal experience in a desert in order to in some way help you to understand something that is beyond your experience.
The desert is as dry as a summer heat wave. It is hot as drought. Envision the disappearance of all trees, plants, houses, cars and life from where you are. This is the desert. It thirsts for the moisture of the heavens. It yearns for the color green or anything that would be the resemblance of vegetation. The winds cast its sands from dune to dune. Throughout time, the mighty forces of weather move the great sand mountains from one location to another. The desert is a place where the sun is not quenched and heat is not shielded.
We could go on. However, we cannot fully explain that which is beyond your experience. We could use the greatest of metaphorical expressions and yet fail to fully take you with conceptual thought to the reality of a desert experience. There are no words to take you there.
In like manner we struggle to understand God, the supernatural, and even a place to which we all yearn to go—heaven. The inspired writers combed human dictionaries in order to select through guidance of the Holy Spirit the most precise words possible to give us a glimpse of that which was beyond human definition. The Holy Spirit, however, was handicapped. He too was limited to the confines of an earthly dictionary that contained the earthly definitions of our earthly experiences.
How would God explain to us, by use of humanly defined words, a place that is beyond the limitations of our dictionary. Herein lies the challenge of Deity. Herein is the imagination of humanity expanded by the beauty of metaphor in divine revelation.
We can somewhat bring to your imagination the concept of “desert” by resorting only to those experiences you have stored away in memory by your personal experiences. However, as soon as we use a word or a phrase that goes beyond your personal experience, we lose you. You cannot understand. Therefore, we must test your imagination. We must tease your thinking with the richest of metaphors in order to open a door of thought concerning our desert experience. No matter how hard we try, however, we will fail. We cannot through human communication take you to that which you have never experienced. Your understanding will always be inadequate. It will always be limited to your vocabulary that has been defined by your own personal experiences.
Our failure to adequately communicate, and your lack of a desert experience, however, does not distract from the reality of the desert. Our failure only signifies that there are no words with your definitions that will fully explain our experience. You must understand this, lest you doubt our experiences and the existence of the desert which we have personally experienced.
You also must play along. You must not “literalize” our metaphors. You must use your imagination and allow us to elevate your thoughts beyond your personal experiences. In this way, we are using your dictionary in order to take you on a mental trip beyond your environment, beyond your presence to a far away land.
God would do the same with us. He comes to man with a concept of heaven that is so far beyond our experiences that we awe and gasp at its possibility; we grasp after its reality; we yearn for its presence. However, because it is so far beyond our understanding, some would even doubt its existence. Their inability, or unwillingness to conceive of that which is beyond this world leads them to skepticism. They doubt because they are too earthly confined. They are in bondage of their own vocabulary. They refuse to dream beyond that which is of this material world.
God’s being, existence and character have to be beyond that which He originated. The Creator must be greater than that which is created. But our dictionary contains definitions of the creation. How can we escape the confines of our earthly defined words in order to grasp that which is beyond earth’s dictionary?
The Holy Spirit comes to us with a book of human words, the Bible. We must first understand that He did not bring a heavenly dictionary. Paul learned this when he was caught up to Paradise and heard “inexpressible words,” words that were not lawful to be uttered (2 Co 12:1-4). They were not lawful to be spoken simply because we do not have the heavenly dictionary that has definitions of a realm that is beyond this world of our only experience. If he had by chance been given just a few heavenly words to utter on our behalf, we would in no way have been able to understand them. Even if he had brought from Paradise a dictionary, we still would not have understood simply because the definitions of the dictionary would have been beyond our earthly experiences.
It was the Spirit’s task through revelation to challenge our imagination, to take us beyond our personal experiences, beyond the words of our world in order to understand that which is beyond human experience. So God comes to us in the Bible with metaphors. His inspired Book is loaded with metaphors as “the face of God,” “streets of gold,” and “fire and brimstone.” What is God communicating? Should we understand these metaphors after the literal, earthly origins from which they were taken? Should we make earthly a revelation of that which is beyond this earth? Or, should we understand that the metaphors point us to something greater than the metaphors, greater than earthly definitions?
In our frustration to understand God, our first inclination is to create a God after our own image. We see God as ourselves, after our physical existence. We conclude, therefore, that God has a real arm. He has a literal face, eyes, ears and vocal cords. In our childish hermeneutics we have brought God down to where we can now understand Him. He has now gone from God to god. We have created a god we can understand. We have created a god to whom we can relate after an imaginary way. This is the spirit of idolatry. Our next stage of digression is to form this god in a piece of wood or carve him in a rock. You laugh. But this is how man has unceasingly behaved throughout the annals of history.
We might affirm that we are too educated to carve the image or file the stone. But our conception and perception of the god we worship possibly justifies the acts of our rebellious life. Whether carved or conceived, man’s gods always seem to submit to the vile cravings of man himself. Somehow, god always ends up being a “force” out there somewhere with which one can deal and around which one can conceal wickedness.
What good is a god that can be defined by an earthly dictionary? Who wants a god that cannot act beyond the verbs of a compound sentence? If our god cannot work beyond the confines of our grammar, then any god we linguistically construct will do. Let us simply conceive and construct one that will allow us to eat, drink and be merry. Who wants a god who is simply created after our fears and subject to our own lusts?
However, there is something in us that says we know better. We cannot explain it. It is just there. It is innate; it is a yearning to be beyond ourselves. It is a longing of hope that says this is not all there is. This yearning, this longing has compelled us to search the universe in order to discover this God who is bigger than words, bigger than our understanding of things of this world. This God is bigger than our dictionary of words. He is even bigger than the Bible which contains the Spirit’s assortment of human words to take us metaphorically beyond humanly defined concepts. We therefore understand that the Spirit seeks to challenge our imagination with the majesty of metaphor in order for us to see the majesty of our Maker.
Moses struggled to take a divine ID card back to Egypt from Mount Sinai. There was no way that God could fully explain to Moses or Israel who He was. The Eternal Spirit simply told Moses to tell Israel that “I AM” sent you. We are sure that this “name” confused Moses as it does us. But what better statement could possibly explain the mystery of our God.
Israel had spent four hundred years in the seat of idolatrous polytheism in Egypt. The Egyptians were riddled with the created gods of old through whom they sought blessings from above in every aspect of life. There was the god of the river, the god of the sun, the god of the harvest. When it came to creating gods, no society had a better god factory than Egypt.
So Moses stood before an Israelite society that had been infected with the virus of polytheism and simply stated, “I AM, sent me.” We cannot help but think that the ignorant of Egypt scoffed. However, those who had seen the futility of creating a god after one’s own desires, knew that there was something right about what Moses’ proclaimed. They knew that God had to be beyond carved stones and created images.
Man’s gods were always handicapped. They could never function beyond the ability of their creator’s mentality. They were crippled by a mindset that desired a deity who submitted to the inadequacies of humanity. The righteous of Israel knew this.
They therefore followed Moses out of captivity and into a desert experience. However, the venom of created gods had not left them. When Moses delayed on the mountain before the “Great I Am,” the people clamored that Aaron “make them gods that will go before us.” Only when the true God opened the earth in order to consume the imagined gods of Israel, did they understand that there is only one God. This is not a hand-sculptured god. He is a God beyond gold, beyond man’s base desires. He is not simply, but majestically “I AM.”
When the apostle Paul walked into Athens and down the streets lined with idols, he came upon an altar that read, “To the unknown God” (At 17:23). This one inscription explains centuries of ignorance by man of the one true and living God. Greece was an intellectual center of mankind. Here lived Plato, Socrates and a host of other thinkers of history who knew that there was something beyond the material world. They also lived in the midst of idol gods that had been created after the imagination of men. Nevertheless, the philosophers of ancient Greece knew that if these imagined gods were no greater than their imagination, then they were gods who were tainted with humanity. These gods could be tricked by clever men. Every idol was constructed to appease the Greek gods. However, the philosophers knew that there had to be a God out there who was beyond the cleverness of men, a God who could not be conceived by the imagination of the wisest man. Therefore, just in case, they built an altar to this God in order to appease Him. This was the God about whom Paul said, “… for in Him we live and move and have our being …” (At 17:28). This is the God the Spirit seeks to communicate to us through revelation. This is the God about whom we read in the Bible. And this is the God that every man misses if he does not come to the word of God in order to discover His marvelous greatness.