Skip to content

The Nature of Greatness

I was at a meeting with some pastors and other leaders in our community today, and one of the things that was on the agenda before lunch was “worship.” And so, as we waited for our lunch to appear, a guitar was pulled out, and a few songs were sung around a board room table with great enthusiasm. One of the songs we sang was one that I gather is a fairly popular one in evangelical churches these days—Chris Tomlin’s “Our God.” Here’s the lyrics:

Water You turned into wine
Open the eyes of the blind
There’s no one like You
None like You
Into the darkness You shine
Out of the ashes we rise
There’s no one like You
None like You

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
What can stand against?

I should be clear that I don’t particularly have anything against this song. In my more perverse moments, I find myself substituting “my dad is bigger” for “our God is greater” and imagine a weird kind of schoolyard one-upmanship battle going on, but there is certainly nothing wrong with singing about the strength and power of God. Indeed, the Psalms are full of language celebrating the greatness of YHWH in comparison with the other gods of surrounding nations. I am all for the greatness of God.

But as I was listening to the words above, my thoughts returned to a conversation that I had been a part of only a few hours earlier. I was speaking with a dear saint whose spouse is currently in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. We spoke of the heartache of watching someone you love deteriorate, of the helplessness and frustration of being unable to halt the slide into chaos and confusion, and of the pain of not being recognized by one you have given yourself to and spent your life with. We spoke about experiencing the absence of God in a world of suffering.

Our God is greater? Stronger? Healer?

Well, yes, but…

There is always a “but,” isn’t there?

After the meeting today I spoke with a local hospital chaplain. I asked him what he found most rewarding about working in the context he does. He looked at me and said, “Well you’re probably not going to like my answer, but I enjoy working in the hospital more than I did working as a pastor of a church. The hospital is where the action is. I get to bear witness to the light of Christ with people of all kinds in the most vulnerable times of their life. It doesn’t matter if it is Christians, Buddhists, atheists, satanists, whatever… Jesus always shows up with the weak and the dying.”

did like his answer. Very much, actually. Jesus always shows up with the weak and the dying, the rejected and forgotten, the expendable and neglected.

The greatness of God, Jesus-style.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. “The greatness of God, Jesus-style.”

    Yes!

    And it’s funny how easy it is to separate the two, whether through our songs, theology, informal creeds and what-have-you. God’s greatness and Jesus are somehow separate, perhaps reflecting an inadequate theology of the trinity at play here. Just a thought.

    I may have ranted to you before, but a phrase I wrestle with is “glorify God” – the belief that in everything we say and do we make sure God’s greatness is rightly recognized (a good thing, no doubt). Your post reminds that such greatness is not always in the flashy, supreme-being, ultra-spiritual way we make it out to be. To quote Peterson’s translation, God’s greatness “moves into the neighborhood” (Jn. 1:14). Now that’s what I call great!

    September 15, 2011
    • Yes, I think we are often binatarians in practice, aren’t we? God the Father is the one who has all of the power and knowledge and impressive stuff, while Jesus is the one with mercy, meekness, and nonviolence and stuff like that. Probably a bit of a caricature, but not by much… I think often we tend to read “Jesus” through our categories of what “God” is like, rather than looking at Jesus and saying, “this is what God is like!”

      I agree with what you say about the phrase “glorify God.” So often it seems like people are trying to prove that they think highly enough of God to be orthodox (as in the song above, perhaps). Maybe God is less interested in us ratcheting up our language of exaltation about him than he is in allowing what we know and have experienced of Jesus to recalibrate and reorient our conceptions of what greatness is and where it is found.

      September 15, 2011
      • I think you nail it with this last line: “Maybe God is less interested in us ratcheting up our language of exaltation about him than he is in allowing what we know and have experienced of Jesus to recalibrate and reorient our conceptions of what greatness is and where it is found.”

        I think part of my resistance to “glorify God” language is it only further distances us from God. And perhaps unintentionally, we don’t think such a God could ever connect with us lowly humans. Whereas connecting the phrase to Jesus breaks down this unwanted barrier, leading to the transformation you suggest.

        September 15, 2011
  2. I guess it might depend on the context. If we were to sing this song “Pax Romana” in response to a military victory over our foes is one thing. But what if I’m Maximilian Kolbe and I sing this in Auschwitz as I die in place of another so that he might live to return to his wife and children.

    September 16, 2011
    • Yes, good point, Paul. As always, context influences (determines?) meaning.

      I think the line “And if our God is for us, then what could stand against,” for example, would have taken on a very poignant and cruciform meaning in the story of Kolbe.

      September 16, 2011
  3. Loved that story. I love how God’s power turns up in such unexpected times and places such as in the hospital room of a dying person…

    September 16, 2011
  4. Brian C. #

    How preposterous that an apprenticing carpenter, from Galilee no less, would claim to be Messiah, the royal Son of God. It doesn’t seem to make sense that God can be both holy and humble, until the part about his resurrection. And all the while Jesus does not want to draw attention to his status. Was he even interested in it the title? I think he was more concerned about people and their relationship with God. He chose the weak over the strong, the foolish over the wise. He is found among the least of us. Yet power, status, and wealth are so pleasant to be around:)

    My dad is still stronger than me. It’s that old man strength. When do I get old man strength?

    September 16, 2011
    • I don’t know, Brian… Let me know when you find out :).

      (How true, that we so often prefer and are drawn to the very things that Jesus rejected or seemed to deem unimportant.)

      September 17, 2011
  5. Rita #

    It seems to me that that hospital chaplain is right where he should be… in the midst of where people are real, where little else matters, where people are reduced to our common denominator, regardless of what we’ve said or done all of our lives. I especially like… ” It doesn’t matter if it is Christians, Buddhists, atheists, satanists, whatever… Jesus always shows up with the weak and the dying”. Wow.

    September 20, 2011
  6. Guess I found your online self 😉

    September 26, 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: