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“God in a Box”

Psalm 131

Several years ago, I attended 3 bridal showers for my son and daughter-in-law to be in one weekend.  Drinking champagne punch in a fancy plastic cup with a pink and white striped straw, I took special notice of the pile of presents yet to be opened.  My, oh my!  There were:

  • Traditional store wrapped boxes with a tell-tale purple bow from Bed, Bath and Beyond,
  • Gigantic boxes with whole rolls of ribbon made into a magnificent bow,
  • Boxes with live garden flowers on top,
  • A basket with a dainty tea pot, teas and chocolate delights amid the paper strips,
  • Flat packages,
  • Square packages,
  • Small packages,
  • And sweet packages.

So I sat there thinking about what could be in each one.  There were tell-tale signs that made some easier to guess than others.  And I began to think about how we use metaphorical boxes to categorize our lives.  So my question this morning is: “Have you ever known a person who confined God to a box?  I’m speaking of the kind of box that has definable dimensions, is wrapped up tightly and tied with a bow.  In a box, God is ~

   ~ predictable

   ~ clearly known and understood

   ~ straight forward

   ~ small, neat, and orderly.

Wouldn’t it be cool if God came in a box like that?  It would make life simpler!  Wouldn’t it be incredible if life, religion, right and wrong all looked like that? 

When I taught Christian ethics at Newman University, I often found my students trying to identify their own ethical systems as this neat and orderly.  They wanted to convince me that their ethics were applicable in every situation without thought, easy to understand, neat and orderly.  Either they hadn’t lived long enough to experience the difficulties of adult decisions or they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes.  I refused to allow such simplistic answers.  Instead, I used weekly conundrums for them to discuss; complicated situations with several “right” answers or no definable solution.  Personal ethics cannot be confined to “yes” and “no”; and neither can God.

As Rob Bell wrote, "The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up."

Yet, it is tempting to try to put God in a box.  I’ve met quite a few people who put God in a box.  I want to describe some of these boxes for you.

Box with a mirror:  There is a certain type of box that when you open it you find a mirror inside.  People who have god in this box assume that god is just like what they see in that mirror:

   ~ god reflects their personal thoughts

   ~ god is of similar age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality

   ~ god mirrors their personal beliefs and ideas

This god just confirms and affirms them without challenge.  You’ve heard the saying, “In the beginning, God created humans; and ever since, humans have been trying to return the favor!”  We are probably all guilty of putting God in a box with a mirror at some point in our lives.

Long & narrow box:  There are those among us who put God into a box like this.  In this box, god is prescriptive ~

   ~ there is only one way to understand god

   ~ god has one truth and only one

   ~ the path to find this god is long & narrow

   ~ and that path is the only way to god – no other ways are acceptable

There is little room for creativity or movement in this box.  Faith is smushed and packed tightly in such a narrow box.

No box:  For some of us, there is no box big enough for God.  In fact, the world itself is not big enough to capture god.  In this mindset ~

   ~ God is soooo big that God can’t be identified or understood

   ~ God is sooo unexplainable and so big that god has no boundaries

   ~ In fact, this god is sooo huge that god isn’t anything at all.

This is one of the dangers that progressive Christians face.. we make God so generic that we can’t have a relationship with God.

Bible box:  For some folks, God is like a box with nothing inside except a Bible.  They believe ~

   ~ that God is fully explained in Scripture

   ~ there is no room left in the box for the church, prayer, the Spirit’s influence, reason, or anything else.

I’ve heard a few of them say, “The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”

Preacher box:  Other people put their minister in the box to represent God.  This is a very dangerous practice!  Inside this box ~

   ~ the preacher becomes the only way a person is able to know God.

   ~ the person doesn’t get to know God through personal reflection, prayer, study, Scripture, or any other means.  They rely on the preacher to provide all things spiritual and Godly.

   ~ unfortunately, this is another trap some progressive Christians fall into. All-too-often fall into the habit of letting their entire exposure to faith comes from 1 hour on Sunday morning.

People box:  Like the “preacher box”, there is a comparable “people box”.  For a person who places God in a people box ~

   ~ the sum total of their understanding about god is from their friends,

   ~ they see god in others but god has no separate identity.

Thing box:  Some of us have a box full of stuff that replaces God.  The possibilities are limitless for the contents of such a box ~

   ~ golf balls

   ~ money

   ~ nature

   ~ fishing lures

These folks pay a lot more attention to the stuff in the box than God.  In fact, they collect more and more stuff to put in the box that eventually, there is no room left for God.

Church box:  There are a few people who get confused and their box only contains the church. 

   ~ These are the people who say they don’t need God because the church is full of hypocrites.

   ~ They don’t understand that the church is a different entity from God.

   ~ God created and sustains the church but God is not the church.

The truth is that God doesn’t fit very well in a box.  Preachers, scripture, other people, prayer, the church ~ all of these can lead us to know more about God but they are not a substitute.  God doesn’t operate well in our lives if God is confined to a box, on a coffee table, or even Sunday morning.  God must be present in all of our lives as Divine Mystery and as Love.

In Psalm 131, there are only 3 verses. Consider these words:
                        O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
                        my eyes are not raised too high;
                        I do not occupy myself with things
                        too great and too marvelous for me.

                        But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
                        like a weaned child with its mother;
                        My soul is like the weaned child
                        that is with me.

                        People of God, hope in the Lord
                        from this time on and forevermore.

Let us move beyond placing God in the boxes of our world and learn to calm and quiet our souls so that we may hope in the Lord forever!