In Time magazine’s list of the most influential people in the world in 2019, they include actors, singers, scientists, politicians, athletes, businesspeople, and the Pope. You can see the full list HERE. It is quite telling to scan through the list and consider how we measure influence and greatness. And yet, all of these people are mere human beings. James had a stinging rebuke for those of us who pridefully presume to be great. He said, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (cf. James 4:13-14).
Through advancements in scientific knowledge, we learn just how insignificant we are, physically speaking, compared to the scale of the universe. For, our planet is little more than a speck of dust in the Milky Way galaxy which is just one of over 100 billion galaxies in the universe! If our planet ceased to exist, then the universe would scarcely miss us. Still, the Bible teaches us that the God who created this universe with the word of His mouth is mindful of us. It’s a mystery that blew David’s mind as he wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). If we understood God’s transcendence in the way that David did, not only would we be blown away by the knowledge of God’s concern for us, but we would have an entirely different definition of what makes someone truly great.
God Is Beyond Our Comprehension
Awhile back, I preached a sermon from Isaiah 55. In that passage, the prophet reflects upon God’s transcendence in the following way, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). To help us understand what this means as it relates to God’s plans and purposes in the crises we encounter in this world, I compared the span of a human life to drops of water. If one second of your life were equal to one drop of water, then your life would be comprised of around 2.5 billion drops of water if you lived to be 80 years old. That seems like a lot of water, but in reality, it is only enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool to a depth of about 4.5 inches. But what if everyone whoever lived (100 billion people would be a generous estimate) had an average lifespan of 80 years (again, a very generous estimate)? Then, all the lifespans of all the people who ever lived would comprise 250 quintillion drops of water (25 followed by 19 zeros). That really seems like a lot of water, unless you compare it to the drops of water in the ocean which is estimated to be around 2.2 septillion (22 followed by 23 zeroes). That’s over 8,000 times the number of drops of water equivalent to the lifespans of everyone who ever lived. So, what’s the point? As we go through our lives, all we really think about or plan for would be the equivalent of a swimming pool or a small lake in the limited span of our lifetime. On the other hand, God’s thoughts and plans encompass the ocean for generations stretching from eternity past to eternity future. How great is our God!
Not only that, but every one of those infinite moments we just considered is eternally present before God, whom Peter describes, as follows, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Is you mind blown away, yet? And all we have done is consider the transcendence of one of God’s attributes, namely, His eternity as it relates to time. We haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding a God who is everything that He is infinitely all the time! The words of the contemporary Christian songwriter, Mark Altrogge, describe it well [LISTEN HERE]:
You are beautiful beyond description, Too marvelous for words; Too wonderful for comprehension, Like nothing ever seen or heard; Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depth of Your love? You are beautiful beyond description, Majesty, enthroned above.
What Makes A Person Truly Great?
So, perhaps now that we have contemplated humanity’s smallness and God’s greatness for a few moments we can better understand why David was so amazed by the fact that God is mindful of us! Isaiah was similarly amazed as he wrote, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
However, contained in the prophet’s words is the key to true human greatness, namely, that the God who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, would condescend to dwell with us and give us new life, if only we will be humble and contrite enough to receive Him. That is precisely what God the Son did when He became flesh and made His dwelling among us so that He might make known to us the one true God whom no one had ever seen (cf. John 1:14, 18). Not only that, but He died for us and rose again to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might enter into a right relationship with God by grace through faith in Jesus. The pathway to true human greatness is to be known by the infinitely transcendent God! “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Galatians 4:8-9).
Year ago, radio personality Paul Harvey recorded a Christmas story about a man and some birds [LISTEN HERE]. The man was a kind and decent man, but he refused to attend the Christmas Eve church service with his wife because he just could not accept the idea that the infinitely transcendent God of the universe became a man. While his wife was at church, a snowstorm began to blow, and before long, the man heard a thudding sound repeatedly at his window. He put on his coat and went outside to investigate, only to find a small group of birds that had been overrun by the storm and were pounding against the window in a futile attempt to find life-saving shelter. Determined not to let the birds die, the man tried to shoo them into the warmth of an open barn. But, every time he approached them, they scattered.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” Then, it hit him. That is precisely what God did for us. Would you aspire to greatness? Then understand that greatness is found not in the accolades of this world. Instead, it is found by being known by the infinitely transcendent God who condescended Himself to be known to those who will, in humility and contriteness, receive Him.