As we move into this New Year, many of God’s people are feeling like his people at the time of the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom Israel (721BC). In the words of Psalm 83 they feel encircled, even besieged by opposing forces – especially the anti-God forces of the secular West. So we need to ask one another, How big is your God?
FINDING TRUE GREATNESS
In the 1950s J.B. Philips wrote a book entitled, Your God is Too Small. It’s a good sub-title to Isaiah 40, a chapter worth reading and meditating on in tough times. Nowhere else does the Bible express so triumphantly the theme of the true greatness of God: To whom will you liken God? Isaiah asks (40:18). And more personally, he continues: To whom then will you compare me? (40:25)
In response to these ‘bookend’ questions, Isaiah asks a subset of questions – first, of the world of science: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? (40:12)
We like to think our knowledge of the universe is increasing. We can observe it and harness its resources. Isaiah asks, ‘Can you reposition the oceans or turn deserts into pastures at a word?’ God can. We don’t have God’s creative power.
Isaiah then asks the academies and professional worlds: Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? (40:13,14)
Today we consult experts in almost every area of life – legal, financial, design, career, travel. Isaiah asks, ‘What consultants does God use to create and control the world? What mathematicians? What scientists? None. He is all-knowing.
THE MORE WE KNOW, THE LESS WE KNOW
Many great scientists, Isaac Newton amongst them, have found that the more they know of the universe, the less they know. It is said that Newton once commented that ‘he felt like a little boy, standing on the edge of a huge ocean of truth, picking up the occasional pebble to admire, while the ocean lay undiscovered in front of him’.
The nations, Isaiah continues, are like a drop from a bucket (40:15). All the nations are as nothing before him… less than nothing and emptiness (40:17). As far as God is concerned, the wealth of all the nations could not enrich him.
‘What about other gods?’ people ask. Anticipating this, Isaiah responds: To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compares with him? The idol! – A workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains… (40:18-19). There is irony here. It’s illogical to say that a work of art can represent the creator God. Idols, unlike God, are without life and cannot give life.
‘Very well, what about the rulers of the world?’ others ask. Some of them hold themselves out as gods – Augustus Caesar and before him for example, Nebuchadnezzar. Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? Isaiah asks. It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness… (40:21-23).
No president, prime minister or earthly power can be compared with God’s greatness. His throne fills the universe. He needs no city, for heaven and earth are his dwelling-place. God only has to blow, and the seemingly powerful, arrogant rulers will whither away. It’s one reason we can pray with confidence for the rulers of the nations – not least in this election year – as Paul commands us to do (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
To whom then will you liken God? Isaiah persists. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: who created them? he asks (40:26). ‘Day and night God controls the stars and the vast, complex cosmos in which we find ourselves. The whole of the universe is an arena for God’s artistry.’
We search the whole of the universe in vain for just one thing with which to compare the majesty, power and greatness of God. Nothing that we might worship, our science or technology, our giftedness or wisdom, our military or political power, or even the stars, can be compared with God. He is truly awesome.
If you are ever feeling discouraged and overwhelmed then consider again Isaiah’s picture of the awesome majesty of our God.