In 1953, J.B. Phillips wrote a book called “Your God is Too Small”, in which he first describes the various ways we “undersize” God (a resident policeman, parental hangover, Grand Old Man, etc.) and the issues those assumptions create before opening into the necessity for an “adequate” sized God that captures both transcendence and immanence. (This short book is great for a small group study though could use some updated terminology. It is available here or you can read the full text here.) It is an essential exercise to de-tangle the conceptions we have of God from the character of God. In the ambiguity of God’s presence, it is natural to fill in the blanks based on the template we choose. But the danger inherent in this is what to do when our real life collides with the template we have inherited.
Big God (2018) Florence + The Machine
I enjoy the song because of how gripping the vocals emphasize the need for God to be big enough to “hold our love” and “fill us up” in the midst of struggle. The image that we have of God is usually a quaint, bygone view. God is not a part of our contemporary life, but sanctioned off to an era of donkeys and sandals (aka, Bible-times). Does God understand the complexity of my life? Does God understand the reasons why I hurt the way I do? How I give and receive love?
And I think this is a obstacle that politely-religious folk haven’t really grappled with- that someone can believe that God loves them but not trust that God really understands them. And from this place comes a serious lament for people who desire to know God or to have the sense of God’s spirit and community that they had when life was “simpler”. Maybe before coming out or starting a family or experiencing traumatic loss- we cannot settle for “lesser gods” or gods incapable of understanding and loving our complete selves.
You need a big god
Big enough to hold your love
You need a big god
Big enough to fill you up
Sometimes I think it’s gettin’ better
And then it gets much worse
Is it just part of the process?
Well, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Though I know I should know better
Well, I can make this work
Is it just part of the process?
Well, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Psalms 44 is a lament song, trying to express the pain of trying to understand why God seems so distant. Trying to reconcile the idea that God loves them (and has provided through their ancestors) yet their current life seems so far removed.
Wake up! Why are you sleeping, Lord?
Get up! Don’t reject us forever!
Why are you hiding your face,
forgetting our suffering and oppression?
Look: we’re going down to the dust;
our stomachs are flat on the ground!
Stand up! Help us!
Save us for the sake of your faithful love.
In many cases, the God-conception we knew before our struggle is too small to continue on with us through our lament. We want the simple God-concept from a simpler time, or, have concluded that the simple God-conception is the only God that exists and is baggage to be discarded. Still, in the moment of disconnect, there is deep grief that what was once known was either fiction or can never be recovered in light of present circumstances. We cannot fast-forward through this pain, but we can anticipate how it can be transformed into something far greater.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul is describing the distance that the Jewish people with their conception of God and how they conflated God with “God’s Law”. Paul’s uses a word kaluma which is translated into English as “veil” here, but other instances have a less-opaque connotation (a boat being swamped in Matthew 8:24 or the absurdity of putting a lamp under a bowl in Luke 8:16). Our outdated God-concepts will blur (at best) our understanding of God, if not completely distort and divide us. We carry these masks and barriers from our ancestors and society. We have been told that it means something specific to be Christian, or read the Bible, or be faithful with our lives. Generally, these messages have been meant to keep us safe from straying away from the comfortable concepts of our traditions. But these same traditions, that are meant to preserve something beneficial from the past, become blinders to experiencing new life in response to the gospel.
But whenever someone turns back to the Lord, the kaluma is removed. The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. All of us looking with un-kaluma’ed faces at the glory of the Lord as if we are looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory* to the next degree of glory*. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
* “glory” is understood as the character of God’s being, which makes this statement even more incredible! That when we remove our masks and the barriers we have surrounding God, we are transformed into progressive depth of living the character of God’s being! What does this liberation look like? How do we honor and celebrate it after a season of lament?
Liberated (2018) DeJ Loaf featuring Leon Bridges
This song (and the concept for music video) has me absolutely floored. The concept of liberation is not a new idea in the church, but it has grown dusty in many corners where we have developed a faith that is cozy with our traditions and societal privilege (and condones the means of oppression to maintain them). Liberation is also a powerful force as people come to terms with their masking behaviors and choose to live into their full identity instead. This freedom is a part of God’s redemption of humanity and should be celebrated in the church as a catalyst to propel the entire community to experience more of the transformation of Christ. We are kaluma’ed no more by our self-doubt that God does not love us or understand us. We are free to take our first steps into living the character of God’s being with our full self and not limited by the God-conceptions of others who maintain the barriers.
God is there in the lament. God is at work to bring freedom to oppressed people. God is active to transform lament into liberation and liberation into the freedom to know yourself fully as one who is made by God, loved by God, and a full member of God’s family like our older brother, Jesus.
More information about the video and testimonies of how people understand Liberation at www.peoplegetliberated.com
What do you think? This whole site is in experiment mode right now so I am looking for feedback. Use the comment area to let me know if you like this type of content or how to improve it- comments won’t post so only I will see what you have to say. Thanks! -michael