G*d in a Box: Limitations and expectations

Imagine a line. Just a red line on the ground. You happen to be standing somewhere in the middle of it. It stretches as far as you can see in either direction on the ground. There’s nothing particularly special about this line. Except that it never ends. And it never begins either. Sure, you can try to find the end. You can follow that line as far as you want, but you will never find an end to it. No explanation, no matter how hard you try. It isn’t self-contained, wrapping itself around the planet or anything, it just never ends.

Simple enough to imagine? Try this, then.

Take a moment to just think about our universe, infinitely expanding in all directions. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t even really care to learn much about science, but just take a moment to think about the fact that if you flew out into space you would never stop flying out into space. You would keep going. Forever.

Brain hurt yet? How about this.

Imagine being immortal. Not with any sort of romanticized immortality that has been dreamed up by the human imagination. Consider the concept that you’ve always existed. That you never had a beginning. And then imagine never dying. Ever. Regardless of the circumstance. You would just continue to exist forever, seeing your loved ones, the planet, even the infinitely expanding universe die out. You could even spend the rest of your eternal lifetime exploring every inch of the entire universe; you would never run out of new things to see and you would never run out of time to see these new things.

This is about when I start to curl up into a ball and cry a little bit. Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Our understanding is limited. To us, everything has its limit. Everything has a beginning and an ending. So there are concepts that, no matter how hard we try to understand them, we will never wrap our brain around. They exceed our limited comprehension, leaving us confused and possibly frustrated at our inability to really understand it. The only response we can have is to admit defeat. There’s nothing we can do to change our understanding, so we have to give up trying to understand it. Even once we think we may understand it, there’s still an aspect of it that escapes our grasp. Then, once a new fact comes to light, it blows our minds all over again.

Infinity is something we, in our limited understanding, aren’t completely able to wrap our brains around. And we realize this. And we accept this.

So here’s my question: Why do people keep trying to wrap their brains around God? Why do people try to put some sort of definition or label on God to satisfy their need for everything to make sense? Why don’t people give up?

Again, I feel the need to take a moment here to clarify: I’m not claiming to have everything figured out. I’m human, so it’s not possible for me to have everything figured out. These are my own thoughts and my own opinions at this exact moment in time, and this organization of my own thoughts is as much preaching to myself as it is to anyone who will take the time to read it. In fact, it is preaching to myself before it is to anyone else, because that’s usually where these kinds of things start in the first place. I just sometimes feel the need to organize my thoughts in a place where other people can see them.

Anyway, there are so many verses that remind us how big God is and how we can’t completely understand Him.

These are just the beginning of all that he does, merely a whisper of his power. Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of his power? (Job 26:14, NLT)

Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable. (Job 36:26, ESV)

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers — the moon and the stars you set in place — what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4, NLT)

He counts the stars and calls them all by name. How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension! (Psalm 147:4-5, NLT)

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. (Isaiah 40:28, NLT)

Time after time we’re reminded that we’re human. That we cannot and will not understand everything. And yet, we still try to wrap our brains around God. We still try to take the Creator of the universe, with power, love, and wisdom immeasurable, and put Him in a box. We try to define what He can and can’t do and what He will and won’t do. Then, something happens that blows our understanding out of the water. But, instead of letting God out of the box, we find a bigger box to put Him in. I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m guilty of this. But every person is guilty of this. But why don’t we let God out of the box? Why do we just find a bigger one to try and contain Him in?

The answer is simple: We can’t fully understand God.

The conclusion I have come to is this: Because of our limited understanding, we will always put God in a box. In our minds, everything has a limit, simply because we can’t even fully conceptualize something that truly has no limit. While the reality is that God has no limits, our brains will, rather than stop putting limits on God, expand the limits past our previous understanding, whether we know it or not. We may think that we don’t put limits on what we think God can do, but we still unconsciously place limits on Him nonetheless. Sometimes even our ways of describing what God is capable of show our limits. Saying that God is “big enough” to overcome something in our lives indicates the limits we place on Him. We say “He is powerful enough” rather than simply “He is powerful.” Even the statement that “Christ is sufficient,” as if He’s just enough for us, has started to bug me a little bit as of late. When in truth He’s far more than we could ever ask for, expect, or imagine. We will always keep God in a box. And when He exceeds our limitations and expectations, we’ll go and find a bigger box.

But there’s a certain beauty to this tension that we live in. Every time God blows our minds, we get a bigger box for Him. If we truly reached a point where we were fully able to comprehend the infinite beauty, wonder, power, and majesty that is our Creator, God would no longer be able to blow our minds. We would no longer be blown away by the incredible grace that He pours out over us every day. The blessings that are so graciously poured out over us would become normal. We would begin to know exactly what to expect when it came to God and what He would do in our lives.

But instead, He keeps Himself beyond our understanding. He’s created us in such a way that, because of our limited understanding, He is able to amaze us over and over again. He blows the lid off the box that we’ve put Him in, and will never stop blowing the lid off of it, because He loves us. And because He loves us, He loves to blow the lid off of that box. He loves to reveal more of His character and His heart to us. And so we continue to pursue Him, to further understand His character and His heart, living for the moments when He blows the lid off of the box we’ve put Him in.

While this tension does exist, and while it is frustrating that we, in our limited understanding, can never fully comprehend all that is God, I believe there is a “correct” way to approach this tension. And that is simply to place our hopes and expectations in Him and to ask Him to reveal Himself to us day by day. This involves being honest with ourselves and with God about the limits we’ve placed, whether we know them or not. It involves saying, “God, these are my hopes and dreams. These are my desires. I know all things are possible with You. And this is only possible in and through You.” Because no one in their right mind has a dream fulfilled then sits back and says, “That went exactly according to plan.” The response should be gratitude, thankfulness for the blessings poured out on us. Having dreams fulfilled is in and of itself one of the manifestations of God revealing Himself to us. Just one of the many ways He blows the lid off the box we’ve put Him in. But, since we always just find a bigger box to try and contain God in, the key to this tension is to never stop dreaming. To never stop hoping. To never stop pursuing God and His heart. Doing so is to become content with God staying in the new box you’ve found, rather than bringing your limitations before Him and asking Him to exceed them.

Never become content with keeping God in the box.

And never try to claim that you haven’t put God into a box. Instead, accept the fact that you’ve found a bigger box to try and contain Him in.

And know that He will not be contained.

And pray every day that He would blow the lid off of the new box you’ve tried to put Him in.