Elephants in Thimbles
“God, the most formidable word ever spoken.”
That was the line printed on the program underneath the name of the composition. I had a first-row ticket to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and it was worth it. I will never forget that evening.
The music was powerful, foreboding, haunting, compelling, and magnificent all at the same time. There were moments when the music caused your chest to rattle and moments when it lured you with a whisper.
What I experienced that night was the breathtaking attempt of an exceptionally gifted composer to capture God, in all his amazing and variegated glory, in a single piece of music. In some ways, it was a triumphant effort; very few humans could arrange music like that. Yet, at the same time, it was a dismal and embarrassing failure.
For any human being to think that he or she could capture the glory of God in a single artistic statement is delusional at best and arrogant at worst. Psalm 113 says, “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (vv. 4-6, ESV)
To attempt to define he who is infinite with finite expressions is impossible, more impossible than squeezing the entire body of a grown elephant into a thimble. It won’t happen, no matter how talented you are and no matter how hard you try.
While it’s entirely true that the Lord is high above the nations and he looks far down on the earth, Paul simultaneously reminds us that “he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). Because the Lord loves us and wants us to experience and engage with his glory, he gave us the gift of Scripture which puts the hugeness of the glory of God into the smallness of human language so that we can at least get some sense of what he is like.
For example, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 40, the prophet Isaiah stretches human language to give us a little glimpse of God’s glory. “Who has measured the water in the hollow of his hand . . . Who has . . . weighed the mountains in scales? . . . Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket [to God]. . . . He spreads [the heavens] like a tent to dwell in” (vv. 12, 15, 22).
Imagine how little water you can contain in the palm of your hand, then consider that God can hold all the liquid in the universe in his hand and not spill a drop!
Isaiah employs incalculably huge word pictures to help us to have even a twinge of understanding of how glorious God is. Yet even these very picturesque and helpful descriptions cannot give us a complete understanding of the glory of God. Glory is glory because it lives above and beyond that kind of description and definition.
In everything that he is, God is glorious beyond human description. Every part of God is glorious in every way possible. There is no one like him, no one that rivals him, and no valid comparisons to be made to him. He is the great Other, in a category of his own beyond our ability to estimate, understand, or describe.
He is glorious; there is nothing more to be said. And because God is glorious in every possible way, he alone stands in this vast universe as the only One who is worth the worship, surrender, and love of every human heart.
I love how the Bible begins: “In the beginning, God…” You could argue that these are the four most important words in Scripture. Everything else that follows, from Genesis to Revelation, requires our attention, awe, and obedience because, well, in a word: God.
How frequently do you meditate on the indescribable mystery of the glory of God? If you let it capture the thoughts, desires, and emotions of your heart, it will radically change your life.
And don’t forget to jump for joy because you are connected to the glory of this awesome One by grace!
Paul David Tripp
1. How would you attempt to best define the glory of God?
2. Which element(s) in the created world help you remember God’s glory? (For example, music, works of art, stunning landscapes, food, animals, etc) Which is your favorite and why?
3. When you see just a sliver of the glory of God in the created world, do you think about the glory of its source? Or are you distracted by the fleeting pleasure that you miss the infinite glory of the Creator?
4. Search the Scriptures for other descriptions of the glory and power of God, similar to Isaiah 40. Need a recommendation? Go read Psalm 104 and be in awe!
5. What is currently distracting you from meditating on the glory of God in everyday life? What practical steps can you take to shift your attention, focus, and worship?