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How far can our imagination go?

On a nearly hot afternoon in Bryan, TX, I leave our comfy rented condo and go for a walk. Today, I’m beginning to muse more deeply on the attributes of God. I have chosen, for no particular reason, to start with the idea that God is infinite.

It’s a hard concept, which even the word itself testifies to. We can only define this characteristic by saying what it is not. Not finite. Not limited. We’re not sure how big is big, but it’s not little.

I discover this faded beauty of a house. It reminds me that God is infinite in the sense that he is outside of time. He has no beginning nor end. But that raises another problem: isn’t that also eternal? What’s the difference between eternal and infinite?

The word “infinite” only appears in the Bible in the King James Version. In more modern translations, it is rendered “beyond measure” or “immeasurable.” The Hebrew literally means “no end.” So, Psalm 147:5 states “his understanding is beyond measure.” (ESV)

Being eternal, then, is just one expression of being infinite. It is existing beyond the measure of time. As I stand on a rail line and see it disappear into the distance, I realize that though it might capture this sense of unending time, it’s too linear for the fullness of God’s infinite nature. (It's the "wrong way" to think, as the sign reminded me.) Perhaps if I were standing at a rail hub, with tracks running to the horizon in all directions, I might get closer to the idea.

But my brain tires trying to stretch to understand such a concept. Like this tree, which seems pressed against some invisible force field, my mind presses against my human limitations.

The Puritan theologian Stephen Charnock (1628 -1680), understands. In his book, Discourses upon the existence and attributes of God, he writes:

“Though we cannot comprehend the essence of God what he is, yet we may comprehend that he is; we may understand the notion of his existence, though we cannot understand the infiniteness of his nature; yet we may better understand eternity than infiniteness; we can better conceive a time with the addition of numberless days and years, than imagine a Being without bounds.”

A Being without bounds. What a wonderful phrase! Whatever quality of God we can name – his mercy, wisdom, presence, power, love – it is surpassingly greater than we can imagine. Charnock again: And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, "This is not God; God is more than this."

God says the same to us directly:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9

This is why I sat in the tiny, walled back yard of our condo. It’s good to be reminded of our limited facility to understand the greatness of our Lord.

There’s comfort in knowing, as we struggle to make sense out of this present world, that God is immeasurably more than we need.

He is, in every facet of his character, beyond.

Great and surpassing God, we feel so small and limited when trying to understand your infiniteness. But we thank you for that. It is comforting to know that you are more, in every way, than we can need or imagine.

Reader: how would you picture the concept of being infinite?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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