My first impression walking into the Sistine Chapel was that the iconic image that Michelangelo painted of God creating Adam was much smaller than I imagined. It is contained in one of nine rectangular panels that depict scenes from the Book of Genesis that run down the central portion of the ceiling. Not knowing much about the fresco beforehand I had expected to see a dominant image of God, but was rather surprised that it was somewhat lost amongst the more than 300 painted figures that covered the ceiling of the chapel.
This iconic image of God framed in a panel serves as a metaphor to me of how we confine God in our imaginations. We may not conceptualize God as Michelangelo’s elderly white-bearded man wrapped in a cloak but oftentimes I think we are guilty of limiting God in our minds. These were my thoughts as I read the third chapter of Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God as he expounds on the doctrine of God being a Spirit.
The Bible declares that God is infinite, “for the heaven of heavens cannot contain him” (2 Chron. 2:6). God, as a Spirit, fills heaven and earth and is not limited by a body. It is true that God is described in the Bible as having many parts of the body but this condescension of God is to make Himself known to man with such representations that will assist our finite minds of understanding His infinite nature.
God is an infinite, immense, eternal, invisible, incorruptible spiritual being and yet sinful man has always been prone to represent Him in a bodily form. This has impaired the reverence of God in the minds of men and often limits Him with the imperfections found in our own bodies. I wonder if we often live independent of God because we subconsciously transfer to Him human attributes and flaws such as not seeing our every step, not knowing our every thought, not hearing our every word, etc.
Charnock writes that though we cannot have a suitable conception of God we must not be content without any conception of Him. It is a sin to have a low notion of God but if we ascend as high as we can in our thoughts we will still come short of a suitable notion of Him… this however is not our sin, but the weakness of our humanity.
The nature of God as a Spirit is infinitely superior to whatever we can conceive in our minds. Charnock concludes, “Whatsoever God is, He is infinitely so: He is infinite Wisdom, infinite Goodness, infinite Knowledge, infinite Power, infinite Spirit; infinitely distant from the weakness of creatures, infinitely mounted above the excellencies of creatures. Conceive of Him as excellent, without any imperfection; a Spirit everywhere without place; powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures and when you have risen to the highest, conceive Him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, ‘This is not God; God is more than this: if I could conceive Him, He were not God; for God is incomprehensibly above whatsoever I can say, whatsoever I can think and conceive of Him.’”
What a glorious thought that this same God was manifest in the flesh, died for our sins, was buried, rose again the third day, received up into glory, and through repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, He now is in me forever and His eternal life is my present possession – O what a God, O what a Saviour!
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24
“Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:16