J.I. Packer* asks this question: “How may we form the right idea of God’s greatness?”
Then he answers his own question: “The first [thing] is to remove from our thoughts of God [all] limits that would make Him small. The second is to compare Him with powers and forces which we regard as great.”
After addressing Packer’s first recommendation in the previous post “Remove From our Thoughts,” let’s turn to some of those powers and forces that he is talking about, those powers and forces we regard as great [in a worldly sense].
Packer bases his comments on Isaiah 40. In Isaiah, “God speaks to people whose mood is the mood of many Christians today—despondent people, cowed people, secretly despairing people; people against whom the tide of events has been running for a very long time; people who have ceased to believe that the cause of Christ can ever prosper again” [Packer, 86].
It is almost as if God is asking why worship Me? Why believe in Me? Why cast your lot with Me?
Packer believes that in Isaiah 40, God makes His case.
Look at what I have done, He says. Can a man do this? “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” [verse 12]. Do you know of a man who is wise enough to do these tasks? Do you know a man who is powerful enough to do things like this? I venture you are like me; you are saying no to both of those questions. God answers “I am, or I could not have made this world at all. Behold your God!” In short, God is saying I am majestic due to the tasks I have completed. No human can do this.
Look at the nations. At the writing of Isaiah, the nations of Assyria, Egypt and Babylon were most powerful. People in Bible times stood in awe of these great nation states. They had more resources than other principalities. Their armies were bigger. But does God fear them? Does God stand in awe of their power? You decide as you read Isaiah 40, verses 15 and 17 and the description of our God: “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales…Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing.” God is so much greater than the nations; to Him, they are but “flashes in the pan.” Don’t compare powerful nations to God. Behold the majesty of your God.
Look next at the world. Think about how big it is and how complex it is. Think of all the people who live on the planet. We feel quite puny when we compare ourselves to the whole planet, but how does the whole planet compare to God? In Isaiah 40:22 we get our answer: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” How does the whole world compare to God? The answer is the world is God’s “footstool.” Packer writes that the “feverish activity of bustling millions does not affect Him any more than the chirping and jumping of grasshoppers in the summer sun affects us” [Packer, 87]. Behold the majesty of our God.
Some people always rise to the top, the great people whose laws and policies affect millions of people: governors, rulers, dictators, empire builders. Again we cower in the presence of great people, fearing retribution when we don’t follow their lead. We think they control the world; they determine how the world will function. Isaiah 40:23 is scripture that shows a different attitude. No one has the power of God, for He is greater than all of the world’s great men. “He brings princes to naught and rulers of this world to nothing.” No man has more power than our majestic God.
Lastly, God says look at the stars. When I travel to the remote country-side, I always take the time to look up. Earthly lights don’t detract from view in the country and I can see the heavens better. I must admit that stars make me feel insignificant. As humans we may have the technology to travel in outer space but we are so limited. We can see millions of stars, billions of light years away. It overwhelms our finite minds; we can’t grasp the depths of outer space but God is not overwhelmed. “Lift your eyes and look at the heavens: Who created all of these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name? Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” [Isaiah 40:26]. God made the stars, God set them in space. He is their Maker and their Master. Such is the majesty of our God.
Packer closes his chapter on the majesty of God by summarizing man’s response to God. We find ourselves limited and weak and we find it hard to believe that God is not that way also, but He is not. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One” [Isaiah 40: 25]. Packer cites Martin Luther who is quoted as saying man, “Your thoughts are too human.” We can’t comprehend God’s limitless wisdom and power. But if we can’t comprehend God, surely He is distant, aloof and man is abandoned. Not so; “He never abandons anyone on whom He has set His love; nor does Christ, the good Shepherd, ever lose track of His sheep” [Packer, 88]. Thinking God has left us because He is not on our level is a very pessimistic attitude, maybe held by those despondent people, cowed people, secretly despairing people. There is no evidence of this in God’s word; Packer says “such pessimism deeply dishonors our great God and Savior.” Lastly, we should not be slow to accept the idea that God is truly majestic. It is almost as if God is trying to shame us out of hesitating to accept how truly great He is. Isaiah 40:28 says “What is the trouble? [He asks]. Have you been imagining that I, the Creator, have grown old and tired? Nobody has ever told you the truth about Me?”
Packer’s last words are the opposite of despondency. He is not cowed. He has no despair. His words reflect God’s truth. “The need for us is to wait upon the Lord in meditations on His majesty, till we find our strength renewed through the writing of these things on our hearts.”
There is nothing in this world that compares to God.
He may be more powerful and all-knowing than we can comprehend but He still cares for each of us deeply.
Truly, truly our God is majestic.
From his book Knowing God.