compartmentalizing God

In my personal devotions, I am currently in the Old Testament book of Hosea. It’s one of my favorites. I love it because in it, God is so passionate about capturing his people’s hearts. He addresses Israel as a wounded husband whose wife plays the part of a whore by chasing after other “lovers” – i.e., other gods and the things of this world. He does everything he can – pleads, promises, threatens, woos, thunders, mourns – to get Israel’s attention back on him. The God of Hosea, and of the whole Bible, never submits to being put in a box, never resigns himself to the sidelines, never rests content as one among many (whether among ancient pagan deities or the equally idolatrous modern equivalents of comfort, doing what we want with “our” time, other people’s respect, etc.). And do we really believe that he should?

We “compartmentalize” God all the time. For me, it often goes something like this: “God is relevant to what I pray about and to what happens after I die, but not to how I spend or save my money. Or to how I treat my parents. Or to my attitude when I get up in the morning. Or to how I drive, what standard of living I live at, my choice of college major, or…” On and on. Fill in the blanks for yourself.

The lie we believe is that we can create a “religion” compartment in our lives, into which God fits quite nicely, and call it satisfactory. We try to “fit” God into our lives instead of fitting our lives into him. The assumptions behind this compartmentalizing attitude can be basically summed up with the title of a J. B. Phillips book I read last year: “Your God Is Too Small.”

Phillips discusses some of the “too small gods” that Christians attempt to worship, such as: the resident policeman; the parental hangover; the grand old man; the meek-and-mild; the managing director; the pale Galilean; the impersonal force. Sometimes God’s holiness gets minimized, leaving him as a friendly, cosmic grandfather-type who just wants people to be happy. Other times his grace is ignored and he becomes something like the cosmic projection of an impossible-to-please, emotionally distant human father. In every way these conceptions of God are lies. The holy, infinite, active, personal, Lover-God of the Bible does not resemble them at all.

God is “above the earth and heavens;” he is “over all the nations” (Psalm 113:4, 99:2, 148:13, and many more). He is beyond the vastest expanses of the universe. He is the king of and provider for every creature that has ever walked, crawled, swum, grown, or breathed on the earth. He knows the full personalities of all people, and he understands every facet of who they, and you, are. His glory is inexpressible and his character is irrepressible. He is a consuming fire, a thundering lightning storm, brighter than the brightest star, deeper than the deepest ocean; he exhausts every metaphor. How else can we respond to him but to join with the psalmist in saying, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4)?

Stop limiting God, and thereby limiting your life with him. Refuse to believe the lies of American culture and your own biased take on things, both of which are so often based on inaccurate, unquestioned assumptions. Look up quietly at the stars on a dark night, embrace your own smallness, and begin to understand the greatness of our God. His creation, his word, and his Son declare him to be so big, so glorious, so much more solid and powerful than us, that the only thing for it is to bow down in worship.

The Israelites in Hosea’s day viewed Yahweh, the true God, as just another deity among many, who, like all the others, would be easily appeased with the religified offering of some dead animals (cf. Psalm 50). We too expect God to be appeased with a nice show of religion, an average-type level of commitment, a half-hearted spiritual life. Thank God we are saved by none of these things, but only by the cross of Jesus; thank him that because of the cross he does not hold our complacency against us. With him, there is inexhaustible forgiveness! Really, truly, God is good.

Do you understand that he demands total allegiance in all things and in every way? He is a “jealous God.” He loves you as a husband loves his wife, yet so much more than any man has ever loved a woman. He loves you as a father loves his firstborn son, yet so much more than any parent has ever loved their child. He is the great Lover, the eternal Giver. His passion concerning you is that he himself will be your beloved, your sole refuge and greatest joy, your closest friend, your one and only. He wants deep, uncompromised intimacy with you. What was the purpose for which he bought us back with his blood? To “dwell among us.” To be, he himself, our God. How breathtaking – we are so foolish and blind to settle for anything less than all of himself.

Allow God to begin breaking out of the compartments you put him into, and witness the changes in how you live. Cling to the cross as your only hope for bringing you close to this God “above the universe,” as your sole salvation, as your greatest proof of the never-running-out love of God. Live in awe, for our God is great; live with confidence, for our God is good.

Who among the gods is like you, LORD?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders? Exodus 15:11

For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called. Isaiah 54:5

But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared. Psalm 130:4

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:3


3 thoughts on “compartmentalizing God

  1. You consistently hit me between the eyes. Another outstanding post, Lyssa. Would that we all would live in constant awe of HIM! He is glorious and worth of all praise.

  2. Awesome post :)! I read a quote by Anne Lemott the other day that said, “You know you have a wrong view of God when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” We could change that to say “You know you are putting God in a box when it turns out that God’s plan for your life is the same as yours.” to fit more of what you’re saying.

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