Ancient Of Days

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Listen to “Ancient of Days” by Fred Smith


A cardinal rule of teaching is never open with a line that makes it impossible to say anything more about the topic. That’s especially true if it is a lecture and you have 45 minutes to fill. In a discussion class you can always make the statement and then say “talk among yourselves” for the balance of the time. Of course, I am always suspicious that no one ever talks about the lesson but more likely goes straight to politics, sports or the kids.

That’s the predicament I found myself in preparing a lesson on Isaiah 40 and the qualities of God. What can anyone say about the incomprehensible – especially the incomprehensible that became flesh and dwelt among us? What can be said about the incomparable only grasped by weakly comparing him to other gods? What can be added about the unimaginable by using words that have already been imagined and overused and therefore totally inadequate?

I had painted myself into a corner until I remembered a book I had read as a young man struggling through my relationship with God – or idea of God I had at the time. J.B. Phillips wrote “Your God Is Too Small” in 1961 just at the right time for me. So, I pulled the old copy off the shelf and decided as I could not do any better than Isaiah and I did not want a frustrating discussion about the indescribable, we would talk about a few descriptions of what God is not and how inadequate our little gods are.

God is not:

The Resident Policemen we think of as our conscience. Some of us have a conscience that allows us latitude while others are born with a conscience that causes them acute pain at the slightest offense. The heavenly patrolman is always looking over their shoulder ready to find fault.

The Parental Hangover is what has been shaped by our first experiences with our own father or parent. Some people even have trouble referring to God as Father because of their unhappy relationship with their own father. Many are not able to outgrow the sense of guilt and fear, and in adult years cannot get beyond it, even though it has nothing to do with a real relationship of the Father.

The Grand Old Man is how God is often understood. Instead of seeing God as ageless or even eternally young and creative we have him pictured as an “ancient of days” all in white. Of course, the Renaissance did not help us think otherwise but only reinforced the image.

Absolute Perfection is of all the false gods the greatest nuisance for many. After all, we remember that Jesus himself said, “Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” How do you get around that one? It also appeals to our desire to be “all in” and working our way toward real spiritual maturity by being one of the fully devoted.

The Managing Director is for those who think that the God who is responsible for the terrifying vastness of the Universe cannot possibly be interested in the lives of the little specks who are here but for a moment and then wither like grass and fade like flowers. How insignificant we are and how busy He must be with other things.

God In A Box is how we often present him to unbelievers. It is not just our differences in denominations but we appear to have captured and tamed God to our own liking while, in fact, he is really far too big ever to be forced into the little man-made boxes with neat labels.

Second Hand God is the one we think we have found by watching the experiences and beliefs of others. We see how they describe their relationship to him or he deals with them and we imagine that is how it must be with us.  We hear, “It was a God thing” and wonder how we can experience the same.

Meek and Mild is how we often hear Christ described and we struggle to mimic him while repeating over and over again, “What would Jesus do?” We can hardly be surprised if children feel fairly soon that they have outgrown the “tender Shepherd” and find their heroes elsewhere.  

The Heavenly Bosom is, unfortunately, not so much a comfort as it is sheer escapism and a deliberate desire to be hidden safe away until the storms and stress of life are over.

You may have had other small gods in your life but these were at one time or another mine – and they still want to be.

But we do not have to let them, do we?

Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips

Art by Simone Cantarini


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Showing 6 comments
  • Avatar
    John Thomas

    God is incomparable complexity and utter simplicity all in one. He controls all and draws near to the one.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      I am reduced to simply saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

  • Avatar
    Joseph Canal

    Such a great little book! I think the most memorable “too small version” of God that he writes about is the “Pale Galilean”— gentle Jesus meek and mild.
    Phillips’ translation of the New Testament was “The Message” for me before “The Message” translation was written.
    The false gods we create are always false because they are too small.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Yes, I wish I had room to include that one but I only have 800 words!

  • Avatar
    Charley Voigt

    I lean on your practical words to stir curiosity enough to begin to unwrap the Amazing Big God who found us. 800 words well spoken have urged us on to live more freely, to be fully engaged with others around us, to take risks. To find peace. I am delighted to know another pilgrim who journals his thoughts and encounters life with others, stirs vision and attempts to know the unknowable God. Each glimpse is beautiful. I am glad to count you among my friends.

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