Your God Is Too Small, And So Is Your Devil
The observation that our vision of God is often far too small, is a common one. J. B. Phillips captured it in his little book, Your God is Too Small. Indeed, our parochial visions of God rob us not simply of an appreciation of his greatness and glory, but effectively constrict our confidence, assurance and vision.
But our tendency to elevate the immediate and visible, and depreciate the spiritual occurs not only in our diminished vision of God, but also in our shrunken and impoverished view of evil. It is not only our vision of God which is too small, but our vision of evil which has been shrunken to a pale reflection of the biblical word.
How often we tend to see evil in exclusively personal terms – our own inadequacies, failures, egos, temptations. Evil is as minimal as a “slip and fall” case. Contrast this with the sweep of evil in a biblical perspective. Evil becomes not simply personal, it is a spiritual force: it is “principalities and powers.” It affects not just persons, but nations. It infects the whole creation.
Sin is not simply a localized cancer which can be excised by knife or focused radiation – but rather a systemic disease, corrupting the whole – it has entered the lymph nodes, sweeps through the organism.
This is seen repeatedly in Scripture. For example, the national corruption of Israel is not only personal, but systemic – its justice system itself is corrupt.
A recognition of this sweeping scope of evil – its endemic and systemic character – ought to do several things for us: first, it helps explain the dynamic power of evil which so clearly seems more the sum of individual sin. The sweep of contemporary sin and the rapid demise of the moral fabric of our own culture witness to more than individual evil decisions. When we accept this uncomfortable reality, it keeps us from being totally stunned. Around the office, someone will frequently note another item of news of evidence of human depravity, another fall in the declining moral fabric of the nation. We are at first amazed that this is happening so quickly – but on biblical reflection this is no surprise. This is the course of evil when God is rejected, and the truth is no longer retained in the mind of man. Romans 1.
Second, this recognition ought to challenge us as lawyers to seek truth, right and justice not merely in individual transactions, but in systems and structures as well. The fall has corrupted every human endeavor – including its legal systems. Our failure to recognize this level of corruption blinds us to prophetic witness in the public sphere.
Third, it invites us to examine our own lives more intensely. Sin in our own being is not measured simply by our self-conscious perceptions of guilt, or our willful defiance of God’s order. Our whole being including our minds, as well as our wills, have been distorted by sin – and only the most rigorous submission to Scripture and the Holy Spirit can free us from these dimensions of sin.
Finally, a recognition of this biblical truth will free us from narrow parochialism and political illusions. I am sometimes dismayed by the ease with which evangelicals so naively and uncritically endorse a laissez faire economic and political model – almost a libertarians political philosophy. Government is perceived as evil, and needs to stay out of private life, but business and entrepreneurs are treated as pure. The free market is God’s order, we are virtually told. No such notion could come from Scripture which would be as suspicious of entrepreneurs as it is of bureaucrats – which would expect that mankind unchecked will fall prey to selfishness. And of course that is precisely what was produced in our own history, e.g. robber barons, and in contemporary Russian (so called) capitalism. “All” have sinned – and, thus, restraints are essential, including a role of government and law. That indeed is the picture of the duty of government in Romans. A biblical view of the scope of evil is, ultimately, part of the good news – we now understand ourselves and our world.
Lynn R. Buzzard
L. Buzzard, Week 16: Your God is too Small and So is Your Devil, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 40-41 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).
Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.