From the Letter to the Ephesians:
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Ephesians 3:20-21 (NRSV) – June 3, 2014)
Several days ago I was driving on the interstate highway when I encountered a man whose load of cardboard boxes had shifted and tumbled out of his truck. Traffic, of course, was slowed down and tangled up, and he was at his wit’s end trying to gather them up. I could tell that what he really wanted to do was just walk away from those boxes.
I thought of him reading these words.
These are the words with which we close the Daily Office. Well, not these words precisely. The Prayer Book uses a somewhat more poetic translation: “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.” (BCP 1979, page 102) I wonder why we don’t take these verses seriously, especially that part about what God is able to do: “abundantly” or “infinitely” more than we can conceive. (The Greek word Paul uses is hyperekperrissou which means “beyond superabundance”.)
Now I’ll admit that Paul’s letter limits the application of this principle to God’s work “within us,” but that can hardly be understood as a limitation on God’s power. As Paul writes elsewhere, “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Rom 1:20) So back to my question: why do human beings not take seriously the idea that God is able to do more — abundantly, infinitely more — than we can conceive?
Whenever I witness — I almost wrote “get into,” but the truth is I’ve given up getting into — the creation-vs.-evolution debate, I am perplexed by the human need to wrestle God into a box (or, alternatively, to keep God out of a box) . . . and by the intellectual effort expended on trying to keep God small enough to understand. At least, that’s what I think those who call themselves “young earth creationists” are trying to do. The constant need to explain away contradictory evidence — the speed of light, the calculated age of the universe, the fossil record of dinosaurs, the demonstrable impossibility of fitting two of every living species of animal onto a vessel the size of Scripture’s ark (not to mention the varieties we’ve rendered extinct), and the list goes on — must be exhausting.
God was gentle with Jacob that night at Penuel, I think. Jacob had only to wrestle with “a man” for a limited number of hours. (Gen 32:24-32) The creationists, on the other hand, trying to wrestle God and all those inconsistent facts into the little box of their very limited imaginations must have to work at it constantly. That’s why I’ve given up getting into that debate; it exhausts me and I’ve better things to do with my energy. Unlike God, I don’t have a beyond-superabundant supply time or power.
The other side of the debate — the atheist evolutionists, let’s call them — have the same problem, I think. Their box is bigger and more flexible; they’re willing to open it up and let in new evidence, work with new theories to understand it, and let go of old or conflicting beliefs. Except, of course, God. Their box, as big and flexible as it is, apparently doesn’t have room for God. Like their debating opponents, they need God to be small enough to understand, but since God can’t be observed, measured, tested, and confirmed by repeated experimentation, there’s no room for God in their box. So, again, limited imagination.
The same problem. One side’s restricted imagination leads them try to wrestle God into their little box; the other’s makes them try to keep God out of their big box.
But God is not a God of boxes. God is not interested in our boxes. God, beyond our imaginings, would like to ignore our boxes, I think, if we would let God.
The man on the freeway couldn’t walk away from his boxes . . . but we can abandon ours! We really should. I believe God would be delighted not to have to deal with them anymore!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.
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