On the Smallness and Intimacy of God

A reliable proverb is “Scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist.”

In its ongoing effort to keep proving the truth of that, this online atheist source posts the following:

Get rid of the word “only” and you’ve got it in one.

The attempt to daunt and intimidate with mere numbers, size, and bigness only works if you give no real thought to what the infinity of God really means. It casts “infinity” in the role of infinite remoteness, but fails to grasp that God can be infinitely intimate too:

It also betrays a fundamentalist background to the mind of the poster with the jargon about “only having a personal relationship with you”.

“Personal” means, for Americans, Me. A personal thing is, for most Americans, something I alone can understand and that you therefore cannot understand. The idea that a personal relationship is a communal relationship does not come naturally to the American mind.

In the actual Christian tradition, what is personal is what is common. In the conservative American antichrist tradition, what is personal is esoteric.

In the Christian tradition, personal things are things all people experience: love, fear upon the sea, joy at birth, the delight in the changing seasons. In the American antichrist tradition, personal things are MINE, dammit and you can neither understand nor have them. So a personal religious experience is something I and I alone can understand or grasp and you cannot share in it or relate to it. In the actual Christian tradition, the most intensely personal experience you can have with God is called Communion and is shareable with the entire rest of the community.

In the actual Christian tradition, the Son of God entered the universe as man, not so that I alone can have a personal relationship, but so that all of creation would participate in the life of God, not just me.

American Christianity, which tends to see salvation as an escape from the world into a disembodied spirituality, tends to overlook this because it tends to overlook the permanence of the Incarnation and the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. Paul, in contrast, emphasizes the cosmic and all-embracing implications of both of these facts. So he daringly declares of a crucified manual laborer from Hicksburg in Galilee:

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. .He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. .He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:15–20)

and

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Ro 8:19–23)

The book of Revelation has the same shocking view of the extent of the implications of the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Son of God, declaring that it means not merely me, myself, and I can have a one-on-one relationship with God in the privacy of my own imagination, but that it necessarily and shall issue in the transformation of the entire universe. That’s what a New Heaven and a New Earth means.

The authors of the New Testament are perfectly aware that this is an absolutely outrageous claim. They could not have told you the size of the universe. But given that they could go outside and see with their own eyes like anybody else the fact that the universe is unthinkably immense, that hardly makes them ignorant of the big numbers the meme-makers are tossing around. It’s like the silly claim that people only believed in the Virgin Birth because they did not know about obstetrics and gynecology. Joseph knew just as well as any OB/GYN that virgins did not, in the course of nature, conceive children. The apostles knew, as well as any modern, that it was shocking and outrageous to assert that, for us puny men and for our salvation, the Son of God came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried and, on the third day, rose from the dead. Their own tradition had long ago taught them that the attention God paid us was out of all proportion to our size and was due only to the love of God, not our merits:

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted
by the mouth of babes and infants,
thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth! (Psalm 8 )

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One Response

  1. Yup – the grandeur of the universe ought to make us marvel even MORE at the mystery and majesty of the Incarnation. And really appreciate the distinction you make about what the Christian tradition means by “personal”.

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