None Greater

Have you ever stood next to something truly huge? The typical examples are the Grand Canyon or a giant Redwood tree, but I’ve not been to North America. My huge things are smaller—in part because my green and pleasant nation is.

I remember how small Edinburgh looks from the top of Arthur’s Seat, or the dramatic view up Dovedale in the winter, or how big the sky is in Yorkshire, or Durdle Door rising from the sea by Lulworth Cove.

When you see something naturally big, or beautiful, or dramatic, or just find a standpoint that makes what our hands have made look small, it’s easier to reflect on the Lord who made them. There’s something worshipful about it. We think about how big Yahweh must be that he made these beautiful things with his voice as he spoke them into being. We start to write our own version of Isaiah 40—he scooped Dovedale with his fingers, he stoops to find Arthur’s Seat.

Here’s the thing. He’s a lot bigger than that. We’re like grasshoppers to him (Isaiah 40). Except the difference is much bigger. Ok, we think, like he scooped Dovedale but times a thousand, wow! Except that’s not it either, we’re making a category mistake.

Before I go on, I want to head off a thought. This reads at the moment like a well ackshually comment from that kind of theologically informed but emotionally dead person you find on the internet who wants to ruin your faith with all their minutiae. I should know, I’ve been that guy. I don’t want this to be that. Please keep gazing at trees and mountains and thinking “wow!” about the God who made them. That’s absolutely the right thing to do, and the Old Testament is chock full of it.

What I’m hoping to do is make your apprehension of God bigger, but we should still have our mind blown by the stars.

We could scale this up, look at what we know about the Universe and think “God made that! He must be huge!” and he’s still bigger than that. God is not just a being of infinite size. He’s not just bigger than us to the nth degree. He also has what we Matthew Barrett in None Greater calls ‘infinite essence,’ quoting St. Thomas Aquinas. In other words, God is not a being in the same way I am. It’s probably best to not call him a being at all—God is Being.

The creation is great in size, God is unlimited in being.

By our very nature of being tied down into a being—by being a human rather than a pot plant—I am limited in my essence. That’s hardly the only way my essence is limited, but it is. I know I’m in a different class of being to the blue star fern sat on my desk, or to my desk lamp. When I’m comparing myself to God, I’m not simply in a different class of being. The Fern, the Lamp, and I (which sounds like the intro to particularly surreal buddy comedy—I’d watch it), we’re all created. God is not.

Beyond that, it’s not that God just makes us and sustains us, St. Anselm argued about a thousand years ago that God is existence. It is not possible for anything to exist apart from God, to suggest something could is a category mistake and a nonsense made of words. God is the source and ground of being. If we exist—and we do—God must. Anselm argues in his Monologion from the first principle that “things exist” logically through to the principle that “God exists” and all the way to “that God must exist in three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit.” It’s the most compelling piece of logic I’ve ever read.

After all, as Paul said, quoting the Greek philosopher-poet Epimenides:

In him we live and move and have our being

Acts 17.28

Why do you need to know this? God is bigger than you think he is. There is, and could be, none greater than him.

I was up in the Lickey Hills on my own the other day to pray and think. The leaves were just beginning to come out on the trees, and the sky was a warm blue from one horizon to the other. Some of the trees were majestic, many had fallen down in the winter’s storms, their huge root systems unearthed and stood next to me. I marvelled at the hillsides, and the giants laid low.

God made all this with a word. Think how much bigger he is than me. Imagine the biggest thing possible, God is bigger. In every way you could possibly imagine and many we could not.

Marvel at the God who spun the stars on his tapestry. And then realise he’s grander than that. And bigger than that. And more wonderful than that. And be drawn into the worship of the one who Anselm called That Than Which None Greater Can Be Conceived.

Oh, and by the way, he loves you.

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

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