Back in the late 1950s, as a catechism student I was introduced to some big words as the attributes of God.
Now, a catechism is a manual for instruction in one’s faith. The writers of past catechisms thought it essential that young folks learn about the attributes of God with big words. Hence: God is omnipotent, God is omnipresent, God is omniscient and God is illimitable. Even now, I need to pause to hold clearly in my mind what these big-name attributes described about God. In one respect, at least, these dense words worked. They clearly left an impression on me that God was BIG in whatever aspect you wanted to consider.
But, in another sense, I never quite related those whopping words to the specific detailed actions of God that are documented in our Scriptures.
The phrase “God is” occurs dozens of times in the NIV version of the Bible. It is followed by a great variety of small light or simple words: God is merciful, holy, light, righteous judge, full of compassion, gracious and compassionate, a consuming fire, merciful and forgiving, mighty, righteous, sovereign, truthful.
Twice the phrase “God is love,” appears.
Three times: “God is faithful.”
Seven times: “God is with you.”
And — twenty-nine times: “God is giving you,”
When I consider the specific detailed actions of God that are documented in our Scriptures, I find — a giving God. It is not the big God that was presented to me in my youth. Rather, our Bible tells stories of a hand up, a hand over and even a handout — the gift of the Son, our Saviour.
Meanwhile, the attributes omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and illimitable do NOT appear in the NIV Bible. You can find “omnipotent” in the King James Version — once. Revelation 19:6: “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” The NIV has changed this to: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”
Early English translations of the Heidelberg Catechism, the faith instruction text of my youth, included words like omnipotent and illimitable. Today’s version uses less dense words.
My favourite description of God appears in Genesis 3. You know the story. The serpent deceives Eve about a fruit tree, Eve shares the fruit with Adam. They realize they are naked. Verse 8: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid….”
I’ve always wondered about “the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden.” Was it the crunch and crinkle of colourful new-fallen leaves on a crisp fall day? Was it the sigh of soil as it compacts, freed from its winter rest on a warming spring day? We know He is coming to set a wrong a-right. But there is no stomping on plants or crashing through shrubbery in a vengeful fit. Just, “Where are you?” “What is this you have done?” As if an omniscient God doesn’t know exactly where they are and precisely what they have done.
The big dense words never captured the full essence of God for me. I need simple, light words to hear His footsteps in the garden.
Thank you for listening.