To put God in an awfully small box

This line caught my attention as I was reading Mohler’s article:

The Bishop Discovers Heresy?

This article was written in response to an address made by Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting this week in Anaheim, California, in which she raised the issue of heresy.

She drew attention to the ‘great Western heresy’ – “that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.”

Her line ‘to put God in an awfully small box’, however, does not come from her address. It comes from an interview she gave to Time magazine concerning Jesus Christ:

“We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

It caught my attention because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it use in this context. Those who would advocate a pluralistic gospel, or even universalism, often use this phrase. Let us examine where her reasoning is faulty.

The first error lies in her understanding of ‘we who practice the Christian tradition’. She considers Jesus as ‘our vehicle to the divine’. You might say I’m being picky with my words, but don’t miss out the subtle implications this choice of words can have on our soteriology (theology of salvation). Man has sought to reach the heavens ever since we rebelled against the One True God. Therefore, be careful not to see Jesus as a vehicle to the divine, let alone one of many vehicles. The truth is that there is no vehicle to the divine. Rather, the divine has come to us. We do not go to God, but He, in Christ, drew near to us. At the end of time, we do not go to heaven; rather heaven comes down to us. The divine descends into creation. Creation does not ascend into the divine.

If we miss out this truth, it becomes a slippery slope to  the next error. “To assume that God could not act in other ways” is a strange statement when considererd in the light of the previous truth. The divine has already come down. What else can he do? This error assumes that God is preparing many vehicles to him. The truth is that God has, in Christ, come down to us, to gather a people for his praise and glory. We do not need to ascend to the divine, because he has descended to us. We are thus to congregate under the banner of Christ, the Incarnate God who died to purchase a people for himself.

And now we turn to the phrase “to put God in an awfully small box”. The question I wish to raise now is, who is putting God in an awfully small box?

Is God small for not upholding his righteousness? His righteousness demands that all glory be abscribed to him. When we fall short of that, his justice demands punishment for offending a person of such infinite dignity. His infinite worth demands our eternal punishment. Therefore only a substitute of infinite worth can pay the penalty that our rebellion demands. Is Jesus so small that any other animal or human could equally pay this penalty?

This statement is also often twisted in a way to imply that God’s love transcends all boundaries. Far from it, God’s love comes to us on the narrow way of Jesus Christ. We have too easily substituted the holy love of God for a wapish sentimental love. The holy love of God despises sin – God cannot feel anything but wrath for sinners. Yet in Christ, God is able to love sinners, because their sin is paid for by the blood of Jesus, and his righteousness is reckoned as their own. Without Christ there is no forgiveness of sins, and the wrath of God remains on us – there is no love of God towards sinners apart from Christ. In his mercy, God has given us his Son and thus we sing not only of his holiness, but also of his mercy. The love of God is always and only mediated through Jesus.

To use a story Jesus told, the world is divided into sheep and goats. The goats will be cast into the lake of fire, but the sheep will enjoy eternity in the presence of God. What makes sheep sheep, and goats goats, is the electing love of God made manifest in the person of Jesus. If Jesus, the great shepherd, calls your name, then you are one of his sheep. If he does not, then you are a goat. You can be one of his sheep because he as the shepherd is the one (and only) mediator between God and man. Without this mediator, we are forever goats, forever enemies of the divine.

So Jesus Christ is the God who descended to us – who became incarnate. He is the sinless man who could pay the penalty of our sin, the only man who was perfectly righteous. The Risen Christ is the banner we unite under, and he continues to be the mediator given to us from heaven. In being all this (and more!), he gets the glory. No one can take it away from him, because no one can perfectly fulfill any of these roles, let alone all of them at the same time. To think that anyone else can bring us to God is to minimise the worth of Jesus Christ. And that is to put God in an awfully small box.


3 responses to “To put God in an awfully small box

  1. wait wait wait…

    what’s the difference between compassion and love?

    how can God not love sinners? isn’t it because of love (and not merely compassion) that Jesus was sent to die (and rise) from the cross?

    • It was poorly written. I’ve rewritten the paragraph. I was trying to emphasise that the love of God is always and only mediated through Jesus. Apart from Christ, there is no love for sinners, only wrath.

      • haha okay, makes perfect sense now

        and yup, love and wrath comes hand-in-hand as an attribute of God.


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