Chatting with Einstein
Read your Bible: Isaiah 40:10–31
“To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?” says the Holy One.Isaiah 40:25
In his famous essay “Thinking as a Hobby,” William Golding writes about his surprise when, as an 18-year-old student at Oxford, he ran into Albert Einstein.
I was looking over a small bridge in Magdalen Deer Park, and a tiny mustached and hatted figure came and stood by my side… Einstein.
But Professor Einstein knew no English at that time and I knew only two words of German. I beamed at him, trying wordlessly to convey by my bearing all the affection and respect that the English felt for him… yet I doubt if my face conveyed more than a formless awe. I would have given my Greek and Latin and French and a good slice of my English for enough German to communicate. But we were divided; he was …inscrutable. For perhaps five minutes we stood together on the bridge, undeniable grade-one thinker and breathless aspirant. With true greatness, Professor Einstein realized that any contact was better than none. He pointed to a trout wavering in midstream.
He spoke: “Fisch.”
My brain reeled. Here I was, mingling with the great, and yet helpless… Desperately I sought for some sign by which I might convey that I, too, revered pure reason. I nodded vehemently. In a brilliant flash I used up half of my German vocabulary. “Fisch.
Then Professor Einstein, his whole figure still conveying good will and amiability, drifted away out of sight.7
Is that what it’s like to encounter God?
You long to convey affection and respect, and you want so badly to hear from Him, but is there just too great a gap between your brain and His greatness? You revere Him. But He drifts away, out of sight.
The Bible does say that God is unfathomable:
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
…Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
…He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers. Isaiah 40:13, 15, 22a
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8
Knowing the Unknowable God
Science fiction writer H.G. Wells wrote a story about a pastor and an angel in conversation.
The angel tells the pastor the obvious: “You don’t fully understand the truth about God.”
The pastor desperately responds, “But the truth — you can tell me the truth!”
And the angel smiles and lovingly strokes the bald spot on the pastor’s head. “Truth?” he says. “Yes, I could tell you. But could this hold it? Not this little box of brains.”8
How can my “little box of brains” ever hold the truth about God? How can I hope to know anything about a Being so immense, so beyond my comprehension, so different from me?
The Bible’s answer: I can’t.
I can’t even imagine I know anything about God.
Unless God tells me.
Unless God chooses to reveal Himself to me in terms I can understand. Unless that happens, everything I think about God is potentially an idol, a building of God in my own image.
The really good news is, that is exactly what God does. He is, as theologians put it, self-revelatory. He reveals Himself.
God Unveils Himself
He who forms the mountains,
who creates the wind,
and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth —
the Lord God Almighty is his name. Amos 4:13
God reveals his thoughts to me?
This should instill in me a sense of awe and humility as I move into any study of God. I can only know about God because He chooses to let me know.
Why? Why does God do that? What is man, that God is mindful of him?
Well, God is not only perfect in power; He is perfect in love. He is not only infinite in perfection but infinite in affection.
So God’s goal in letting me know about Himself is not just for me to know His power (or to impress others with my knowledge), but for me to know His love.
Love is the Agenda
I like the way Margaret Feinberg puts it: “Some say that love has no agenda, but… I have come to believe that love is the agenda.”9
Love is the reason for God’s self-revelation. God longs to be known by you, even more than you long to know God.
Think of God’s increasingly intimate self-revelation out of love for you and me:
There are clues to God everywhere in nature. Because God loves you, He speaks to you in leaves and stars and babies and bears and waves and mountains and storms and sunsets and more. It’s what theologians call general revelation (creation).
God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Psalm 19:1a (The Message)
But God desires your love, not just your distant, frightened respect for His greatness. So He also speaks to you in poems and stories and letters and songs and prophecies, recorded in the Bible. It’s what theologians call special revelation (Scripture).
You might guess He’s great by looking at nature, but you learn He’s loving by reading the Bible.
What’s more, special revelation gives you a very cool lens through which to see general revelation. When you see the world made by God through the lens of the word inspired by God, wonders abound all around. You perceive His Nature revealed in nature, His Beauty behind all beauty, the Creator in creation.
So God reveals Himself to us in nature and in His Word. Then the two come together: The Word comes into the world. Jesus is born.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14a
At the incarnation, God’s nature exists with human nature. In Jesus Christ I see who God is more clearly than ever before.
God keeps self-revealing, closer and closer.
The Importance of Incomprehensibility
Don’t get me wrong. To say
God is self-revelatory doesn’t mean
God is easy to understand.
He is, after all,
He exists far beyond any category I could ever put Him in.
In fact, if I am learning about the true God, I should expect to be blown away pretty regularly with thoughts that stagger my imagination (The idea that He is “three-yet-one,” for example). I’m pretty sure that if I fully comprehend everything in a study about God, I’m not really studying the incomprehensible God!
But God can give me a knowledge of Himself that is real, even if I can’t fully wrap my head around it.
I can know something beyond knowledge, as Paul says. I can taste a berry and know its goodness without knowing precisely how to describe it.
This study is not about dissecting God into pieces you can analyze. Because, really, good luck if you want to try to analyze God like that.
It’s about tasting, and seeing, that the Lord is good.
Praying for Eyes to See
To know God that way I really do need more than my little box of brains. I have to pray that God opens the eyes of my heart.
This is why Paul also says to the Ephesians,
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know… his incomparably great power…” Ephesians 1:18a, 19a
During this 50-day study, I suggest you pray this:
“Lord, may the same Spirit who inspired the Word enlighten me.”
Then keep those eyes wide open.
You are not only going to find your mind blown — you are going to find your heart filled. Because He loves you,
God is… revealing Himself to you right now.
Questions For Reflection
When people do not believe God is self-revelatory, how might their relationship with God be affected negatively?
How will thinking that God is self-revelatory have a positive
impact on your thoughts, emotions, and actions?
You might agree that, in theory, God is self-revelatory. But does your life demonstrate that you really believe this?
How might your daily actions change if you really focused on and believed this attribute of God?