How Large Is Our God?

Cliff Williams
Department of Philosophy
Trinity College of Trinity International University
Deerfield, Illinois 60015

We Christians get our conception of God from several sources: our family experiences, our church experiences, and the Bible. Often the first two of these do not capture the richness and the breadth of who God is. The traditions of which we are a part may have focused on certain aspects of God and neglected other aspects. The Bible, however, depicts God in a variety of ways. It uses a large number of metaphors to convey the largeness of God. Here are some of them.

  • "God is light and in him there is no darkness" (I John 1:5).

  • "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Psalm 18:2).

  • "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings" (Matthew 23:37).

  • "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

  • "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).

  • "As an eagle stirs up its nest and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him; no foreign God was with him" (Deuteronomy 32:11-12).

  • "Do you thus repay the Lord, O foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6).

  • "It was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast" (Psalm 22:9). Midwife

  • "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 66:13).

  • "Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5).

  • "The Lord goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury" (Isaiah 42:13).

  • "For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor" (Isaiah 42:14).

  • "You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God" (Psalm 40:17).

  • "The Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor" (Psalm 84:11).

  • "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).

  • "We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8).

  • The parable of the prodigal son: God is a father (Luke 15:11-32).

  • The parable of the lost coin: God is a woman. "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:8-10).

Many people are looking for a rich relationship with God. Perhaps one way to foster such a relationship involves enlarging our idea of God. For by doing so we enlarge our idea of how God relates to us. And if we can have a wider conception of how God relates to us, we can in turn relate to God in richer and deeper ways.

Also, it may be that some of us connect to God with some images better than others, or conversely, that some images do not work so well with us. Though the image of a shepherd was common in biblical days, it is not so common now and may seem a little foreign or distant to us. Or it might be that some of us do not connect too well with the idea of a mother or a father, because we have had bad experiences with our own mothers or fathers.

On the other hand, it might be that we have had good experiences with our mothers and fathers, or an aunt or uncle, and can picture God connecting to us in the motherly and fatherly ways we have experienced.

It might be that some of us have experienced firsthand the huge boulders in the Rocky Mountains the ones that are so large you cannot climb them, and we can identify with the Psalmist when he says, "The Lord is my rock." Or it may be that some of us have had contact with hens and eagles, or pottery makers, midwives, and soldiers. If so, we can picture God being like a hen who covers her chicks with her wings, or an eagle who help her young to learn to fly, or a pottery maker at the potter’s wheel, or a midwife pulling on the emerging head of a child being born, or a solid and protecting soldier.

In addition, our prayer life can be enriched with a wider conception of God. We can pray to the rock of our salvation, the potter who carefully and meticulously molds, the hen who nurtures her young, the shepherd who keeps an eye out for his sheep, the father who runs to meet his wayward child, the mother who delights in finding her lost child. We can pray to the Solid Rock, Nurturing Hen, Tender Father, and Great Mother.

Our church services, too, would be enriched with the use of more images of God. Too often God is referred to just as father. With explicit references to God as mother, rock, hen, soldier eagle, woman in labor, fire, potter, and midwife, including those in public prayers, our worship experiences in church would become more "abundant" in the sense in which Jesus is using the word when he declared, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

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