We can be in danger of idolatry if we worship God for less than He is.
That was a statement I heard recently – and it really challenged me: Do we worship a sanitised version of God; an image of a loving heavenly Father who loves to draw us near, without ever thinking of Him as an all-consuming fire?
If we choose to limit our understanding of God to one that we are comfortable with, then we can be in danger of committing idolatry. We can ultimately shrink Him to fit into our understanding, but that means we live with a wrong view. We can also live in fear because we haven't widened our horizons enough to see the world more from God's heavenly perspective.
So what is God really like?
I have been arrested in the last few weeks by the image of God's magnificence and holiness in the Bible. It is important that we take time to reflect on the images of God that He has provided for us in the Bible. Otherwise we can so easily allow our own preferences, world events or personal circumstances to wither our view of Him right down, until we no longer believe He is capable or in ultimate control of the universe. Here are some amazing pictures of the God we serve:
• Our God is the embodiment of holiness
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.' At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke." (Isaiah 6:1-4)
Even the heavenly, supernatural beings have to cover their faces in the presence of our holy God, and they spend their time worshipping God constantly, declaring His holiness (the triple repetition of the word holy is a way of describing God's absolute holiness). There is a similar vision of God's holiness in Revelation 4 – there, too, the seraphim are saying the same thing – and I believe they still are today.
• We serve a risen, conquering Saviour: our God is in control
"I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." (Revelation 1:12-18)
In a vision very similar to the one Isaiah had, which I quoted above, John receives a vision of the risen, conquering Jesus in Revelation. He had enjoyed such intimacy with Jesus, being one of his closest friends, and yet even he needed this vision to complete his understanding of who Jesus is.
We too need an understanding of Jesus' awesome power to sit alongside the intimacy that we enjoy with Him. This can help us to navigate those times when we see don't understand what is going on in the world. It reminds us that Jesus is not just the gentle yet challenging man we read about in the Gospels, who was willing to die for us on the cross. He is this brilliant vision and is ultimately all-powerful – far more powerful than the evil that we see in the world today.
• Our God is exalted above, and owns, EVERYTHING
"Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name" (1 Chronicles 29:10-13).
This was a prayer David offered to God while gathering materials for the building of the Temple that his son was to complete. But the truths it contains are still as true today as they were then. When we see things that are beyond our understanding, let's remember that God is above it all. He deserves our praise at all times.
• God is never surprised by anything
"Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit." (Psalm 147:5)
We have already seen how powerful God is, but I love the reminder that, while we may get stumped by things, God's understanding is infinite. That means He knows exactly what is going on, so is never surprised – unlike us when something unexpected happens.
• Creation all around us reveals God's glory and majesty
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge." (Psalm 19:1-2)
It is such a simple thing to look around us and ask God to reveal Himself to us through the neighbourhood we inhabit, and yet we are usually too busy rushing around to do so. But these verses tell us that we simply have to look up into the sky to see His glory. Of course, today we can even view images from 11.5 billion light years into space, through the invention of the Hubble telescope. More than ever we can truly understand how the 'heavens declare the glory of God'.
• Our God deserves our awe
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'" (Hebrews 12:28-29)
This passage talks about the need to worship God 'with reverence and awe' and the reason given is actually a quote from Deuteronomy. We are reminded that He is a consuming fire. This is because, as the Deuteronomy passage tells us, He is "jealous God" (4:24). He wants, and expects, our wholehearted worship. Indeed, the Bible has examples of His fire consuming those who did not take His holiness seriously (such as Aaron's sons in Leviticus 10:1-2, the whole of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24 – we also see Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 falling down dead because they lied to the Holy Spirit.) This is sobering and I think we should take a moment to ask: Are we too flippant with our worship? Do we come before Him without examining our hearts first, over familiar with who we think He is?
Of course, there are many other scriptures that reveal how big our God is but, for now, let's let God have the last word on Himself:
• There is no one like Me:
"With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"
"I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, 'My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.'" (Isaiah 46:5,9-10)
So, is the God you worship big enough?