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God is Great

 

In contemplating the oft-heard phrase “God is great,” and then attempting to elaborate on its meaning in terms that are meaningful to us today, we very quickly run out of superlatives.  The first challenge is that peoples’ understanding of what the term “great” means can vary widely.  For some, a “great” God conveys the same sense as a “great” cheeseburger, so applying that adjective to the God of the Universe is woefully inadequate in conveying the true meaning contemplated by scripture—which brings us to the second challenge, and the heart of the matter.  Applying any descriptive term to God that derives its meaning from common contemporary usage is going to be so limiting, so inadequate, that we have to be very careful to speak in terms that properly convey the sense of reverent awe that the scripture intends. 

The fact is, God is in a category by Himself.  When Jesus was addressed by a disciple as “good teacher” (Luke 18:18-19), He replied, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but one, that is, God.”  In other words, be careful not to convey the notion that God is even remotely comparable to other things that bear the same moniker.  It is scripturally accurate to say that “God is great.”  But imbedded in the scriptural reference is the idea that there are none “greater.”      

That is why theologians talk in terms of the “attributes” of God, and describe those using terms that are derived from the old Latin, and not often used in colloquial speech.  We say that He is “omnipotent,” meaning that He is all powerful; we say that He is “omniscient,” meaning that He is all knowing; and we say that He is “omnipresent,” meaning that He exists everywhere, at all times.

These three attributes taken together—or even independently—easily qualify God to be considered “great” by any contemporary definition of the term.   But a true, deeper understanding of the expression “God is great”—one that elicits the reverent awe conveyed by the scripture—requires us to drill down a bit further.  Let’s examine them one at a time.

  1. First, He is omnipotent—He is “all powerful.”  To understand what that means, we need to talk a bit about “power,”—real power.

To begin with, we’ll look at a handful of scripture verses to see why Christians use the term “omnipotent” to describe God.  Then, we’ll open our physics book to get a better sense of what that means in real terms, and also a sense of how awesome His power really is.

You may not have expected to be studying physics in church, but you need to know that we have no qualms about comparing what science teaches with what the Bible teaches.  While there are many academics who continue to promote the notion that there is an intellectual conflict between science and religion, modern scientists have quietly been discovering facts that have actually brought them into even closer alignment, and provided even more compelling scientific evidence supporting the Biblical accounts.

So let’s dive in and look first at some classic Bible passages that portray Him as omnipotent!  The Bible tells us that God is the all-powerful Creator—and Sustainer—of all things.

  • Genesis 1:1
  • Isaiah 40:26-28
  • John 1:1-3
  • Hebrews 1:1-3
  • Colossians 1:15-17
  • Romans 1:19-20

These passages clearly say that God created, and that He presently sustains the universe as we know it.  To get a better sense of what that looks like in more familiar scientific terms, let’s open our physics textbook to the chapter on Cosmology—the study of the origin of the universe, and then to the chapter on Astronomy—the study of the position, size, and movements of celestial objects.  

In our Cosmology text, we learn that the universe (matter, energy, space, and even time—along with the laws that govern them) all exploded into existence in what modern science refers to as “the big bang,” and what the Bible simply refers to as “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Aside from the mind-boggling power that was displayed in that enormous cosmic explosion which created the universe and everything in it, what is even more remarkable about it is the meticulous balance of forces that came into existence at just the right time to support life.  It’s not just raw power we see here, but intelligent, creative power.  We see, for example, a close balance between the explosive energy of the “big bang” that drove things apart, and a fundamental force we now know as “gravity” which pulls things together.  If gravity were slightly stronger, star formation would have started earlier, and all the stars would be more massive.  Large stars are important because only they can generate the essential elements that support the formation of planets and living things of all kinds.  But large stars burn too rapidly and inconsistently to maintain life-supporting conditions on surrounding planets.  Stars as small as our Sun are necessary for that, but smaller stars wouldn’t exist if the force of gravity were stronger.

On the other hand, if the expansive force were stronger (too big a bang), then matter would be flying apart too rapidly for condensation into galaxies, stars, and planets to take place at all.  Thus, the very possibility of our existence required a delicate balance between the forces of expansion and contraction, a balance that scientists have calculated could not have varied by more than 1 in 10 followed by 60 zeros to create the universe as we know it.  In terms of accuracy, this would be like aiming at a target at the far side of the universe (some 20 billion light years away) and hitting your mark!

The result?  Almost incomprehensible.  Our Sun is only one of some 400 Billion stars in a galaxy known as the Milky Way.  That’s mind-boggling enough.  But when you consider that there are over 2 Trillion other galaxies in the universe, it’s easy see to how an awe-struck psalmist could say that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)  Think about it—thousands of trillions of stars—and “He calls them all by name.”  (Psalm 147:4)

Down here on Earth, we’re used to thinking of everyday life on our planet as being pretty normal.  But stop for a moment and think about the fact that we are actually sitting on a globe suspended in space that is spinning around at 1,000 miles per hour!  And not only that, our globe is circling in orbit around the Sun at a speed of 70,000 miles per hour, and that our entire solar system with the sun and all the planets is moving through space at 800,000 miles per hour, still propelled by the big bang!  There is nothing “normal” about this—what’s happening to us right at this moment is astonishing!

But there’s more.  As part of the creation, God also said “Let there be life,” and we have to consider how the planet was prepared for life to happen.  Here are a few more interesting facts.  If the Earth’s spin were slower, the gravity of Earth would crush us; if its spin were faster, we would all fly off the planet like kids on a too-fast merry-go-round.  If the earth were just a little bit closer and received just 1% more energy from the Sun, we would boil away; if we received just 1% less energy, we would be covered with ice.  And our orbit around the Sun must be circular to keep us that way (versus the elliptical orbits of most other planets) because our life-supporting chemical processes function only in a narrow temperature range.  If the Earth was not tilted 23 degrees on its axis, the poles would be much colder and the equator much hotter and as a result, only about half as much of the planet’s surface could be lived on and many species of animals wouldn’t exist.

If the earth did not have such a large moon revolving around it, there would be no tides to move the water, and the resulting stagnant seas would not be able to provide the oxygen needed for fish to live.  The moon is just close enough for its gravitational pull to accomplish this, but not too close.  If it were just 20% closer to earth, for example, the tides would cover almost all land masses to a depth of 35-50 feet twice a day!  If the color of the light waves our sun emits were slightly more towards the red side of the spectrum, or slightly more towards the blue side, the photosynthetic process in plant life would not work, and we would not be able to replenish oxygen from carbon dioxide in just the right amount.  Our atmosphere is 21% oxygen.  If it were slightly less, animals couldn’t breathe.  If slightly more, say 25% for example, the whole world would burst into flames!

We could go on for a long time about God’s use of unimaginable power to create the universe way back when, but our scripture passages also talk about God as the present “sustainer” of all things as well.  What’s that mean?  For the answer, let’s go back to our physics book, this time to the chapter on Particle Physics.  From our high school science class, we know that all matter in the universe is made up of the basic elements in the “periodic table”—atoms—which then form molecules in different combinations to make up the matter we see.  These atoms are in turn formed by sub-atomic particles at their center—the nucleus.  It gets complicated at this point, but at the risk of over-simplifying it, the nucleus of every atom is held together by two more fundamental forces:  scientists call them the “weak force” and the “strong force.”  Gravity is the first of these four fundamental forces in physics, the strong and weak forces are numbers two and three, and the fourth is electromagnetism.

The nucleus of every atom has both positively charged and neutral particles—protons and neutrons.  The electrostatic forces between the positively charged particles would cause them to repel each other (like the positive ends of two magnets) and fly apart, if it weren’t for the “strong force” which holds the nucleus of every atom together—in every molecule, of every element, of all the matter in the universe—everything.  The power of the “strong force” thus binds the very atoms of all the material in the universe together—moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, century by century.  Yes, we are talking about very small particles here—you need an electron microscope to see them.  But the fact is, the power needed to hold the matter in just the tip of your index finger together, if released, would boil all the oceans of the world in a minute!

So when we talk about an omnipotent, all-powerful God, we should always pause to contemplate what that really means.  Everything we see was not only created by Him, but is being held together by His power at this very moment.  If He were to relax His grip for just a moment—to ease back on any of His fundamental forces, the words of the prophets when they speak of “all the host of heaven shall be dissolved…” (Isaiah 34:4) and “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat…” (2 Peter 3:10) suddenly become not just religious fantasy, but a very real vision of reality.  As we consider the omnipotence of God, we probably don’t take enough time to stop and think, as the psalmist David did (Psalm 8:3-4):  “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers; the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?”   

  1. Second, God is omniscient—He is “all-knowing.”

It almost goes without saying that the One who has created everything from the farthest star to the tiniest nuclear particles that compose the earth, would be “all knowing” as well—at least about the physical universe He created and the various sciences that describe it—physics, chemistry, geology, math, etc.  He is as much aware of every planet spinning around a distant star as He is of the electrons spinning around a carbon atom inside your pinky finger.  But what about people?  People are born with free will and the ability to make their own choices about how their lives—and thus all of history—will unfold.  How can that also be known?

As we have seen, the Bible teaches that God transcends time and space—He “inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15).  We tend to think of time as linear—that we move along a continuum day by day that starts at our birth and ends at our death.  We can look back at points along this continuum—the date of our birth, our parent’s birth, Christopher Columbus, Julius Caesar, Moses—all the way back to the beginning of recorded history.  But we can’t look a single day forward.

God, on the other hand, “sees the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10)  He who inhabits eternity—who is beyond the constraints of space and time—can see all of history simultaneously.  Hence, His prophets can write of people and events hundreds and even thousands of years into the future and be found to be precisely accurate as the future unfolds.  In fact, of all the prophecies in both the old and new testaments that could be proved by history so far, 100% of them have been proven to be accurate—a powerful testimony to the omniscience of God, and the authenticity of scripture.  There are several remaining prophecies that deal with the future still ahead of us, and we would do well to study them—but that’s a topic for another message.

So far, we’ve been talking primarily about the knowledge of “natural” phenomenon, the created physical universe and things that can be measured by science and history.  But God is far, far greater than that.  There is a “natural” realm to be sure, and this is where science resides.  But there is also a “supernatural” realm—the one that transcends space and time.  In the natural realm, our history begins when we are physically born.  But the fact is, God knew us spiritually even before we were born (Ephesians 1:4, Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:5) and actually, even before time began.  He knew us from “before the world’s foundation,” and had already determined when and where each of us would appear on the timeline of history (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, Acts 17:26).    

Now, the foregoing is amazing enough, but the really astonishing—and humbling—news is that He not only knows us, but also loves us dearly, and has prepared a specific plan for each of our lives (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 2:10).  This all-powerful God who created trillions of stars and calls them all by name, also knows each of our names as well.  (Psalm 139:1-6, Hebrews 4:13)  He who created the earth and everything in it—who knows each of the billions of sparrows in the world (Matthew 10:29-30), also knows each of us so completely that the very hairs on our heads are numbered.  He knows everything we do, all of our thoughts, and all of our words, even before we speak them. (Psalm 139:1-6)  He knew us before we were born and will know us after we die. 

The question is, do we know Him? 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, but the “world” began when man first rejected the loving care of his creator and chose a different way, a selfish and rebellious path that leads to certain death.  Sin entered the world at that moment, and all that is in the world is now infected and either dead or dying because of it.  Nevertheless, God’s desire is that no one should perish (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), and He has provided a way for man to know Him once again—to be saved from death and regain the knowledge of God as our loving creator and sustainer of life—by sending His son Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of God Himself.  Jesus “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-13); but then “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” so that we could know God as a real person—the Bible teaches that if you know Jesus, you know God himself (1 John 5:20). 

The Bible also declares that those who know Him have their names written in the “Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3, Revelation 2:27), a precious hope for believers.  But there are still many who can see the awesome, supernatural power of creation, and yet still refuse to acknowledge the creator God and accept His offer of salvation (Romans 1:19-20).  These are those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, (Revelation 13:8, Hebrews 2:3) and whose end will not be pretty. (Revelation 20:15)

Which brings us to:

  1. God is omnipresent—He transcends space and time, and is therefore present everywhere, all the time—for anyone who may seek Him.

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing—and holding every atom in the universe together at every moment—it stands to reason that He would be present everywhere—“omnipresent.”  This is both a good news and bad news reality.  If you want to be near God, there is no place you can go where He is not right there with you.  Jesus’ last words to His disciples were, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:26)  He tells us that wherever two or more are gathered together in His name, He will be there (Matthew 18:20), and David elaborates on this in Psalm 139 by saying, “Where can I go from your spirit, or where can I hide from your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, you are there.  If I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there.”  In other words, there is no place, either inside or outside the bounds of creation, where God is not present.  He says “Am I a God near at hand…and not a God afar off?  Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see Him?  Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)  For the believer, of course, this is wonderful, comforting news; but it is also wonderful news for the non-believer who may finally seek God, because he can call upon Him from wherever he is, and God will be right there to answer.

For the evil-doer however, this is not such good news.  The Bible teaches that “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3)  “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)  Wait, we have to give an account?  Yes, the truth is, there will come a day—and many Biblical scholars believe that day will be soon—when we will all stand before God and be held to account for how we have lived our lives (John 5:28-29, 2 Corinthians 5:10).  The Bible teaches that “It is appointed for men to die once, and then the judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Now, in today’s world it is unfashionable—politically incorrect—to be “judgmental.”  After all, they say, who is qualified to say whether a judgement is true if there is no such thing as absolute, objective truth?  All truth is “relative,” they say, to a person’s culture, their upbringing, and how they may feel and choose to live their own lives.   One person’s judgment of truth is therefore no better than anyone else’s; and it is offensive, they say, for anyone to claim that while there may be many and varied “opinions” about truth, there is in fact a real and immutable truth that transcends mere human opinions.

This notion that there is no such thing as pure, objective “truth” has become so pervasive in our culture today that Oxford Dictionaries has selected “Post-truth” as 2016’s International Word of the Year!  The Washington Post then published a follow up article that said, “It’s official:  Truth is dead.  Facts are passé.” 

The underlying reason for this, of course, is “the father of lies” (John 8:44) has been spinning his alternative reality for a long time now, and far too many have come to believe him.  The Post article goes on to make the observation that “The dictionary defines ‘Post-truth’ [as] relating to or denoting circumstances in which observable facts are far less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  Essentially, our culture is losing touch with reality—and with the God who actually created reality.   Now, holding different and even conflicting beliefs has been our common lot since the beginning of civilization, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  People are entitled to their own opinions—but people are not entitled to their own facts—and this is where we go off the rails. 

The Bible actually talks about the fact that in the end times there will be those “whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and that there will be such an outpouring of “strong delusion that they may believe the lie.” (2 Thessalonians 2:11)  Reasoned opinions are one thing—where men of good character can agree to disagree.  But where there is a direct assault on God’s truth—and on reality—especially when belief in the lies reach the point of being demonstrably irrational, you can bet that the enemy has been at work supernaturally.  And the predictable result?  The culture is literally unraveling before our eyes, stress levels are off the charts, and it’s literally making us sick.

“Cognitive dissonance” is the psychological term scientists use to describe what happens to us when there is conflict between what we can see with our eyes and what our minds have been led to believe is true.  It is “the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values” (Wikipedia), and it is literally driving people mad.  It’s similar to the “dissonance” that causes motion sickness below deck on a boat bobbing in the water, when your inner ear balance system senses the motion of the waves but your eyes don’t see it.  You are faced with two versions of reality that your brain can’t rationalize, and which ultimately leads to extreme psychological stress.

For example, in the physical realm, the Bible says that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” but the “father of lies” says no, everything actually came from nothing, and we are merely accidental animals evolving from amoeba.  You needn’t listen to the voice of truth, he says, because there is no such thing as truth.  But then, what will you do with the reality of creation all around us every day and which “declare the glory of God” for all to see, so that “they are without excuse?” (Romans 1:20) 

Likewise, in the moral realm, the Bible says that “The wages of sin is death,” but the father of lies says no, “you will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4-5)  You will actually become wise and know how to judge good and evil for yourself, so you can make up your own moral  rules—or just abandon the rules altogether.  But then, what will you do with that famous preacher, a preacher of the “old school” who has been around since the Garden of Eden; the one whose name is Death, and who points to the simple, demonstrable reality that everything on earth—in fact—is either dead or dying?  Think about it.   We are not living in this world, we are dying in it.  And the fact is, for each person sitting in this room right now, I can therefore say with certainty that the end of the world will come in your lifetime.  How will you deal with that reality?

The “cognitive dissonance” between God’s reality—things we intuitively know to be true—and the web of lies that the enemy continues to spin into people’s heads, has created extraordinary stress levels and a divisive, vitriolic cultural meltdown in America that is unprecedented.  And the psychological cost is high and rising.  The sad fact is that nearly 130 million Americans are now using some kind of mind-altering substance—legal and illegal drugs, alcohol, etc.—just to get through life in today’s American culture.  And on top of that, we lead the world in heaping up other destructive addictions to support our escape from reality:  social media, gambling, sex, pornography and yes, partisan politics.

So where does that leave us?  It may seem that we have wandered a bit from our attempt to unpack what it means to say that “God is Great,” but it’s not so far as you might think.  The fact is, the attributes of God—the things we’ve talked about that make Him “great”—are the very things that we can rely on to ground us, to help us make sense of a chaotic world, and protect us from the ravages of a culture that is rapidly coming unhinged.  We desperately need that sense of awe that comes from contemplating the greatness of our God, to recover that humbling sense of eternity that has been written in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11)—not merely to give us perspective and preserve our sanity in a world gone mad, but also to help others see the real truth and be rescued as well.  As God sent Jesus, He now sends us, “to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; and to proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord” (John 2021, Luke 4:18-19)—until He returns.

The fact is, our “all-powerful” awesome God is still in control, so don’t need to fear.  Our “all-knowing” God has already told us how things will end, so we don’t need to worry.  And our “all-present” God is always here to walk with us and comfort us through the trials and tribulations of life along the way.  God is, indeed, “Great”!

 

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