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The God of No Limits
Lord, we adore thy vast designs,
Th' obscure abyss of Providence,
Too deep to sound with mortal lines,
Too dark to view with feeble sense.
On the day I was born, the doctor who delivered me inscribed my birth records with a firm hand: seven pounds, eleven ounces, twenty-one inches. It was the first legally attested evidence that I was not God.
I would contribute ample proof to that effect in the ensuing years, but during the earliest moments of my life on February 4, 1969, well before I formed my first rebellious thought, uttered my first defiant syllable, or took my first disobedient step, the chasm between who God is and who I am had already been firmly established by the simple fact that I was measurable.
Any discussion of how God is not like us must begin with an acknowledgment that we are measurable and he is not. God is infinite, unbound by limits. He defies measurement of any kind. His limitlessness underlies all of his attributes; his power, knowledge, love, and mercy are not merely great, but they are infinitely so, measurelessly so. No one can place any aspect of who God is on a scale or against a yardstick.
This makes the task of writing a book about his attributes particularly daunting. One of my favorite hymns speaks to the measurelessness of just one of God's attributes: his love. The hymnwriter reflects on the futility of trying to capture it:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
I'm a feeble scribe working with scant ink and a very small scroll. And my task is to share at least a few meager insights about ten of God's attributes. Ten. I have never been more aware of my limits. But I want to do my part in this ongoing effort to describe the Indescribable. Faithful writers have done so for me. Stephen Charnock, Arthur Pink, A. W. Tozer, and R. C. Sproul have all explored the limitless character of God to my great benefit, and to lengths that I am not competent to go. But I hope in these pages to take the lofty view of God these writers have illuminated and ask a critical question: "How should the knowledge that God is ______ change the way I live?" What measurable change should occur as a result of meditating on God's immeasurable attributes, as described in the Bible?
Why We Love to Measure
We limited humans are lovers of measurement; we number and count, quantify and track. If you were to look in your pantry, every carton would display the weight of its contents. Every food label would tell you the number of calories, fat grams, and carbs for a particular item. Your gas gauge tells you how much gas is in your tank. Your clock tells you how much time you have until dinner. Your budget tells you how much you can spend. Your social media account measures your circle of friends. We are happily surrounded on all sides by systems of measurement.
Our compulsion to measure is not a recent development. Ancient peoples tracked the movements of the heavens; their tools of measurement are still visible in canyon carvings and monolith rings. They measured tides and seasons, the passing of time. Measurement is the millennia-old obsession of the limited human, who, perceiving his own limits, seeks to transcend them by quantifying his world. That-which-we-can-measure we think we can to some degree control.
One of my favorite movies is Hoosiers (1986). It tells the story of a small-town basketball team from Hickory, Indiana, that finds greatness under the leadership of their coach, Norman Dale. The end of the movie is not hard to predict, and the '80s synthesizer music in the score is a trial for the nerves. There's also a scene in which Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey earn the undisputable title of "Most Awkward On-Screen Kiss in the History of Filmmaking." But at the 1:34 mark, the movie hits a note of brilliance.
Having reached the 1951 state finals, Coach Dale's team of small-town farm boys gets their first look at where the championship game will be played: a giant gymnasium, easily ten times the size of the small-town high school gyms they have played in all season long. As the players' eyes widen at the scene, Dale pulls out a tape measure. He asks a boy to measure and report the distance from the backboard to the free throw line. Fifteen feet. He asks two players to measure the distance from the floor to the net. Ten feet.
Smiling slightly, Dale notes, "I think you'll find it's the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory."
The scene is brilliant because it illustrates a universal truth: being able to take the measure of something is reassuring. It imparts to us a level of comfort and a sense of control.
We humans attempt to measure not just our environments but also our fellow humans. When we make a new acquaintance, or consider the viability of a political candidate, or interview someone for a job, we assess their strengths and weaknesses. We "take the measure" of their character and abilities, so to speak. We attempt to quantify their attributes, to judge how worthy they are of our trust or support and to keep our expectations realistic.
We also take the measure of self and others for the sake of comparison. Questions like, "Am I smart?" or "Am I rich?" or "Am I moral?" are answered with, "Relative to whom?" We choose our human yardsticks with care, often assuring ourselves that we will measure favorably by surrounding ourselves with people whose own shortcomings make us stand tall by comparison. We tell ourselves that compared to X, we are indeed quite smart, rich, or moral. But unless our measure of comparison is smarter, richer, and more moral than we are, we will preserve the myth of our own ascendancy. We will believe ourselves to be without rival. And that's where a measureless God begins to upend our sense of personal awesomeness.
Our Immeasurable, Measuring God
To the human mind, preoccupied with quantifying creation and its inhabitants, seeking control by measurement and validation by comparison, the Godhead presents a conundrum. The God of the Bible is infinite — immeasurable, unquantifiable, uncontainable, unbound, utterly without limit. We cannot take the full measure of him no matter how hard we may try. We cannot confine him to a physical or mental boundary. We cannot control him, and we can never stack up favorably beside him. Job's companion Zophar expresses our dilemma:
Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven — what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol — what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. (Job 11:7–9)
David praises the infinitude of God's greatness:
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable. (Ps. 145:3)
Solomon, too, acknowledges the limitlessness of God:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
Paradoxically, he who is immeasurable is himself the measure of all things. Note this beautiful contrast in Isaiah 40:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him his counsel? (Isa. 40:12–13)
Put succinctly, who has measured everything? God has. Who has measured God? No one.
In striking paradox, God immeasurable concerns himself with measurements for arks and tabernacles, temples and cities. God unbound sets boundaries for oceans. He catalogs hairs on heads. He numbers stars and grains of sand. Our limitless God specifies the length of our limbs and the circumference of our crania. He measures our very days in handbreadths, lovingly and with intent. And all that he measures is perfect in measurement. All that he binds is perfectly boundaried. Yet he himself is infinitely detailed — limitless, measureless, unbounded.
The God of No Limits
What Zophar spoke, what David and Solomon worshiped, what Isaiah comprehended is this: God has no rivals. Not only that, but he measures and decrees the boundaries by which his creation will abide. Our whole lives as Christ-followers are to be given over to the identification and celebration of the limits God has ordained for us. He lovingly teaches them to us through his Word, through trials, through discipline. He humbles us through these means to remind us that we are not him, nor is anyone or anything else we know.
There is none like our God. The God of the Bible is incomparable, infinitely above his creation. To say that anyone or anything is like him is to try to express the unlimited in limited terms. Any comparison will fall short. Just as the authors of Scripture searched for adequate human language to apply to heavenly visions, we find ourselves ill equipped to express God's perfections. But we must still endeavor to try. Like the Israelites with their sandals still damp from the sand of the Red Sea shoreline, we feel the weight of the question that hangs in midair:
Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Ex. 15:11)
The psalmist, too, marvels:
Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? (Ps. 113:5–6)
The answer, of course, is no one. Creation, existing within the limits of time and space, cannot rival, much less fully articulate, the splendors of a limitless God. Yet from our earliest moments, rivalry has been our intent.
Becoming Like God
As soon as my first child could crawl, he began exploring the limits of his world. What was he allowed to touch? What was off-limits? Any parent can tell you that if you place a small child in an empty room with twenty objects, nineteen of which he is allowed to touch and one he is not, an interesting phenomenon will take place. At first he may play contentedly with what is allowed, but before long he will turn his eyes toward the forbidden item. Soon he will begin moving closer to it, perhaps extending a hand toward it but not actually touching it. A gently worded warning may cause him to shift his gaze to his parent and reconsider his course, but eventually, barring physical intervention by that parent, he will almost certainly lay hands on the one object out of twenty he knows is not meant for him.
I remember trying to conceal my laughter when this process played out before me. The moral tug-of-war within my child was on full display, and it was comical both for its artless honesty and its familiarity. We do not outgrow the desire to test limits. With age, we may learn enough self-control not to put our drool-covered fingers in electrical outlets or write our names on the wall in permanent marker, but we still carry in us the same compulsion to do that which we ought not to do, to reach for that which we ought not to touch. We are line-crossers, boundary-breakers, fence-jumpers, carrying inside us a warped belief that our heavenly parent wants to withhold from us something that is needful or pleasurable. Even as we enjoy his good gifts, we feel a hyperawareness of the boundaries he has set, and we question their validity. Though he gives us nineteen gifts and warns us away from one danger, we suspect that what is withheld is not dangerous but desirable.
We see this exact pattern in the opening pages of the Bible. Lovingly placed in an environment designed for their safety and delight, our parents Adam and Eve mistook being created in the image of God as license to become like God. It was not enough to bear his image within the limits of human existence. No, only becoming like him would do. The Creator was holding out on them. But a crafty voice suggested that limitlessness was within reach:
But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:4–5)
So the finite reached to pluck the infinite from a low-hanging bough, and human history began its corrosive pattern of God-rivalry, pitting and eroding every peak and crevice of creation with the relentless repetitions of that first grasping, the long-armed reach of the human aspiring to the divine.
Reflect or Rival?
So it has been ever since: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. We do so by reaching for those attributes that are true only of God, those suited only to a limitless being. Rather than worship and trust in the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. Rather than rest in the immutability of God, we point to our own calcified sin patterns and declare ourselves unchanging and unchangeable. Like our father Adam and our mother Eve, we long for that which is intended only for God, rejecting our God-given limits and craving the limitlessness we foolishly believe we are capable of wielding and entitled to possess. Even as the redeemed, we crave the forbidden fruit of rivalry.
Theologians make two lists when they describe who God is. One list contains traits that are true only of God. The other contains traits that are true of God but that can also become true of us. Here is an example of such a list:
Only God Is God Is (and We Can Be)
Infinite Holy Incomprehensible Loving Self-Existent Just Self-Sufficient Good Eternal Merciful Immutable Gracious Omnipresent Longsuffering Omniscient Wise Omnipotent Jealous (for his glory)
Faithful Righteous Truthful
Every trait on both lists is limitlessly true of God. Once the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the list on the right can become true of us. It is a list we grow into as we walk in obedience to the commands of God. When we talk about being "conformed to the image of Christ," this is the list we are describing. It shows us how to reflect who God is as Christ did.
The problem I want to examine in the pages of this book has to do with how we humans treat the list on the left. Though this list can be true only of God, we want it to be true of us. It reveals how we try to rival God. We want this list to be true of us more than we want the list on the right to be. To see the truth of this, ask yourself two questions:
1. How many people spend their day plotting how to achieve limitless love for others?
2. How many people spend their day plotting how to achieve limitless power over others?
Though we know that the list on the right is for our good and for God's glory, we gravitate toward the list on the left — a list that is not good for us, nor does pursuing it bring glory to God. It actually seeks to steal glory from him. It is a list that whispers, as the Serpent whispered to Eve, "You shall be like God." It is the natural inclination of the sinful heart to crave this list, but as those who have been given a new heart with new desires, we must learn to crave the list on the right. The list on the right represents the abundant life Jesus came to give to us.
So this book will concern itself with the list of attributes that are true only of God. We will examine how we give our time and our efforts to chasing it, seeking to cast off the limits of our birthright as finite humans. And we will learn to trust this list to an infinite God.
We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity. We are capable of bearing his image as we were intended only when we embrace our limits. Image-bearing means becoming fully human, not becoming divine. It means reflecting as a limited being the perfections of a limitless God.
Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out.
So it makes sense that our self-worship would so often take the form of convincing ourselves that we are (or ought to be) limitless. But we don't just want limitlessness for ourselves — we tend to want it for others as well.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "None Like Him"
Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Wilkin.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: On Becoming a God-Fearing Woman 9
1 Infinite 15
The God of No Limits
2 Incomprehensible 31
The God of Infinite Mystery
3 Self-Existent 43
The God of Infinite Creativity
4 Self-Sufficient 57
The God of Infinite Provision
5 Eternal 69
The God of Infinite Days
6 Immutable 83
The God of Infinite Sameness
7 Omnipresent 93
The God of Infinite Place
8 Omniscient 107
The God of Infinite Knowledge
9 Omnipotent 123
The God of Infinite Power
10 Sovereign 139
The God of Infinite Rule
Conclusion: Fearful and Wonderful 153
Scripture Index 161
What People are Saying About This
“I have had the privilege of personally knowing Jen Wilkin for several years. She is a woman intoxicated by the God of the Bible and has written None Like Him by staring at his majesty. The soul is healed not by gazing at its broken pieces, but by gazing at the beauty of its creator and surrendering to the ‘I can’ts, but he cans.’ I pray you melt into the relief of belonging to the One who is unlike any other as you read this book.”
Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; President, Acts 29 Church Planting Network; author, The Mingling of Souls and The Explicit Gospel
“In an upside-down world that has humanized God and deified man, Jen Wilkin brings us the best news imaginable: our God is infinitely greater, more powerful, more majestic, and more wonderful than we can possibly fathom. Jen calls us to lift our eyes upward, to earnestly contemplate his attributes, and to humbly acknowledge our own limits. As we do, our hearts will be filled with wonder and awe that such a God should stoop to save and love us.”
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author; Teacher and Host, Revive Our Hearts
“My wife and I love Jen Wilkin. She represents a rising generation of evangelical women discontent with the status quo, yet fiercely committed to the Scriptures. Her teaching is provocative without approaching compromise, revolutionary without seeking novelty. This book is rock solid, and it portends an encouraging future for evangelicalism.”
J. D. Greear, President, Southern Baptist Convention; author, Not God Enough; Pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
“Far beyond a Sunday school lesson listing the attributes of God, None Like Him evokes a sense of both familiarity and wonder around the characteristics of the Almighty we worship. This book puts us in our place, beneath the God of all and over all.”
Kate Shellnutt, Associate Editor, Christianity Today; Editor, Her.meneutics
“This book made me want Jen Wilkin as my best friend. But far more than that, it made me grateful that Jen Wilkin’s God is my God. Books that are this theologically rich while also being this funny, this personal, and this penetrating are rare. So don’t miss this one.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher; author, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story
"As [Wilkin] compares human flaws and weaknesses with God's steady and unchangeable characteristics, readers of faith will be reinvigorated by the assurance of God's unvarying, all-encompassing nature."
“What happens when women learn about the attributes of God? They rightfully praise him for who he is! Jen Wilkin has written a helpful book introducing the attributes that belong to God alone, while revealing our own tendencies to try to produce counterfeits in others or ourselves. A better understanding of who God is builds our faith and helps to guard against damaging theology. Jen presses the reader to see how God’s incommunicable attributes affect our own spirituality.”
Aimee Byrd, author, Theological Fitness and No Little Women
“Many of us attribute to God the characteristics of our fallen earthly fathers. In this study, Jen walks us through a better foundation for knowing and relating to our Father in heavenScripture itself. None Like Him is a helpful resource that reminds us that ‘the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’”
Wendy Horger Alsup, teacher; blogger; author, Is the Bible Good for Women? and Practical Theology for Women
“This wonderful book is big on truth and big on God, which means it is very good for my soul. Jen’s exploration of God’s attributes and her reminder of all the ways I’m not God and don’t have to be God ministered to me as a wife, as a mother, and as a Christian. If true wisdom starts with the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves, then here is a book full of wisdom.”
Trisha DeYoung, happy wife to Kevin DeYoung, author of Just Do Something and Crazy Busy; stay-at-home adventurous mother of six
“Many of us believe that greater peace and self-awareness come from exploring our own psyche or learning what makes us tick. But Jen Wilkin believes that greater self-knowledge comes from knowing and reverencing the One who is knowledge himself. In None Like Him, she invites us to learn how God’s nature transcends our own and why the difference between us is good news. In fact, it’s the very best news.”
Hannah Anderson, author, Made for More and Humble Roots
“In my ministry to college students, I am rarely asked questions about morality or theology. They ask for wisdom. Young people yearn to know how the world works and how to work well within it. Jen sets us on the right path by inviting us all to the essential starting point: awestruck wonder at our Maker. We must see how the eternal connects with the mundane if our lives are going to be filled with a sense of meaning. This is a resource that I would love to see in the hands of all of our students.”
Ben Stuart, Executive Director, Breakaway Ministries