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Out of the Box

Out of the Box

Since the beginning of time, human beings have felt this need to reach out for someone greater than ourselves. What some have simply called the “God-shaped hole in the soul” yearns to be filled. God is the one who put that hole there. He wants to connect with us. He isn’t hiding. He’s close. However, that hasn’t stopped people from making all sorts of wrong assumptions about Him.

Even with the belief that God is near, it is understandable that God is not easy to understand.

Now, I don’t want to get into a religious debate at this point. That’s not what I am talking about. I’m talking about how people define God and add baggage to Him that makes Him more distant from us, unreachable, if you will. When the truth about God does not fit our own life, labels, and agendas, then we create a box and make others feel like God needs to fit inside the box of our liking.

We put God in a box and then place that box on the highest shelf we can find. If you want to get close to the box, much less open it, there is a list of rules you must follow. The box tells you that God can only be found in a church on a Sunday morning or at some shrine on the other side of the world. If you want to know God, the rules tell you that you can only find Him by reading a certain book or by joining the right group or by voting for the right politicians. The God in the box is far away, hard to please, quick to judge, and quick to get angry. If you don’t follow every rule exactly right, God in a box is quick to cut you off on a whim.

I have trouble believing that’s what God is actually like, and I’m not alone.

During the time of the Bible, people also had a lot of different ideas about God. The most popular expression of God divided Him up into a pantheon of gods and goddesses who were more like enhanced humans than gods, sort of like superheroes in movies today. Every god and goddess had temples devoted to them where people came and offered sacrifices. In Athens the most spectacular temple was built for the goddess Athena. You can still see it on top of the Acropolis today. In the first century the temple held a forty-foot golden statue of Athena. Smaller temples to various other gods dotted the top of the Acropolis and were also scattered all around the city.

The apostle Paul visited Athens at the height of its adoration of the various gods and goddesses. What he saw troubled him deeply. However, he didn’t go around bashing people; he reasoned with them. That does not mean Paul jumped into an argument with anyone. In that day the people of Athens spent a great deal of their time discussing and debating the latest ideas. Paul joined in. Eventually he stood before the entire high council of the city at a place called Mars Hill. There he was asked to explain what seemed to the people in the city to be novel ideas about God. He said,

It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for Him, as if He couldn’t take care of Himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make Him. Starting from scratch, He made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find Him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; He’s near. We live and move in Him, can’t get away from Him! One of your poets said it well: “We’re the God-created.” Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better — but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and He’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And He has already appointed the judge, confirming Him before everyone by raising Him from the dead. — Acts 17:22–31 The Message

I think Paul’s speech is a great place to start as we try to see God for who He really is rather than the small-sized God people try to explain away and stuff into a box. Putting God in a box is a dangerous game that causes an excruciating amount of damage to people. It has no place in a world of finite beings like us. That’s why I find Paul’s speech refreshing. He doesn’t use a lot of churchy verbiage. Instead, he starts where we all are, curious, wondering if there is one greater than us with whom we can connect, and then he explains what this God is really like.

God Made Everything

So who is God? Paul calls Him the One who made everything and is Master over it. Debates over the age of the earth or the process God used to make everything only muddy the truth. Paul simply said, God made the world and everything in it. That’s it. That’s all that’s important to know.

When you look around the world, you see God’s handiwork. Psalm 19:1 says the “heavens declare the glory of God” (NIV), which means more than seeing something God made when you look at a night sky on a clear night far away from the lights of the city. When you gaze on the beauty of nature, something stirs inside you in response to the artistry of God. That’s why you don’t have to go into a building somewhere to encounter God. Just walk outside and look around. He’s there.

The sun shines, the moon comes up, the trees bloom, the birds sing, and the animals rejoice because God is there.

But God’s work in nature didn’t stop on the day He made it. Paul calls him “Master of sky and land.” Other translations use the phrase “Lord of Heaven and earth.” The words Lord and Master aren’t just honorary titles. They speak of the active role God plays in caring for everything that He made. He watches over His creation because He cares about it.

A long time ago there was a popular view of God which said that, after He made everything, He just walked away and let the universe work its own way out. That’s not what Paul says here. God is not some detached observer but an active participant in the world around us, including in the lives of you and me. Jesus said a sparrow can’t fall to the ground without your Father God noticing. I love what He said next.

So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. — Matthew 10:31

The God who cares about sparrows cares about you. That’s who God is.

The God Who Is Everywhere

God also doesn’t live in something made with human hands. In other words, God can’t be reduced down to one place. You don’t have to walk through the doors of the right church to find Him or travel to a holy place on some sacred mountain. Wherever you are, you can find God there. His presence creates sacred places all around us. We have the opportunity every second of every day to stop and notice.

Not long ago I spent a day with a group of my closest friends, talking through parts of this book. We laughed and we discussed and we listened and we ate and drank and just enjoyed being together. About halfway through our time together it hit me: the hotel room where we all sat in downtown Denver had become a sacred place because God was there in our midst. He hadn’t just shown up. No, God had always been there. It was like He was waiting for us to recognize His presence. That’s the idea Paul was trying to get across to the Athenians.

God cannot be confined to one space. Wherever you go, He’s already there.

I love this idea, but it also sort of stops me in my tracks. God isn’t everywhere because He’s spread Himself thin around the globe. Listen to how Isaiah 40 describes God compared to what He has made:

Who else has held the oceans in His hand?
Who has measured off the heavens with His fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth
or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?
Who knows enough to give Him advice or teach Him? Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
Does He need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach Him what is right
or show Him the path of justice?
No, for all the nations of the world
are but a drop in the bucket.
They are nothing more
than dust on the scales.
He picks up the whole earth
as though it were a grain of sand
. — Isaiah 40:12–15

He “measured off the heavens with His fingers”? That blows my mind. This is why God cannot be confined to a temple or a church. When we connect with Him, we connect with something that has infinite, infinite power and majesty. Coming to Him requires a basic humbleness where we recognize we are not the greatest and biggest thing to ever walk this earth. He is.

Excerpted with permission from Alone in Plain Sight by Ben Higgins, copyright Ben Higgins.

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Even those famous faces who are known all over the world are lonely. Everyone has a lonely place in their soul that is empty and searching for God. God made us that way so that we would seek Him. He wants to be found! ~ Devotionals Daily