Bible Study | January 1, 2016

Bigger than you can imagine

One day, after waking from his afternoon nap, my 4-year-old nephew Simon asked his mother, “How many Gods are there?” His mother told him there is one God. Simon wondered how that could be when God lived in her heart and also in his heart. He then asked, “Does God give hugs?” Yes, his mother said. Simon asked, “Do we have to wait in line?” His mother assured him that we don’t, that God can hug us all at the same time. Then Simon asked, “How big are God’s arms?”

Simon’s questions are simple, yet deep. If we took the time to consider questions like, “How big are God’s arms?” many of us may answer, as his mother did: “Bigger than we can imagine.”

God is able to touch every life, every situation, every trouble, and every joy without any of us waiting in line. In our interactions with family, friends, and others, do our actions and attitudes demonstrate a God with big arms? If you have been hurt by sharp words, unkind deeds, or by a nasty note, are God’s arms big enough to surround your wounded heart and the offending party at the same time?

When your church is in crisis and problems are both multiplying and dividing at the same time, when the differences seem vast and the issues illuminate the ugly side of the human race, are God’s arms big enough to encircle the whole dilemma and bring resolution, restitution, and reconciliation?

Sometimes we place God into our understanding and, in so doing, we make God small. Are we open to replacing our thoughts with God’s way of thinking? Sometimes we think that God’s arms are only as big as our own. We rely on our little brains and our feeble solutions as we deal with situations. In that context, let’s consider love and justice.

The proclamation “God is love” has, at times, been cheapened by a lack of correct perspective. “God is just” has sometimes been voiced with such force that it turns our focus from faith to fear. Where are we to “camp out” as we live? Some choose to camp out in love, and others choose to camp closer to justice. Finding a balance between these two as we deal with others can be difficult.

I can easily understand God as a judge who will punish sin. God will have the last word. We must not take a soft view of sin because God does not. Judgment is easy to understand. But what about love? The Bible lets us know that we don’t totally get it.

“[I pray] that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).

We need to rest in the embrace of God’s arms and love one another as God loves us.

“. . . but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked” (I John 2:5-6)

God’s arms are big—too big to fathom. God’s love is great— so great that it surpasses our knowledge.

As we rest in the embrace of God’s arms and follow the leading of God’s spirit, I believe that our perspectives will change, our faith will grow, and our problems will be cared for in God’s time and in God’s way. A person with a “God focus” will be a great force for good in our world.

If God’s arms can reach into the cell of a criminal, past the promiscuousness of a prostitute, and beyond the bottle of the barfly, God also can embrace your pain, your problems, and your pressures, working all things together for your good.

It’s time to live in the embrace of God’s big arms, laying aside our human understandings and trusting God’s, loving even those with whom we strongly disagree. It’s time to ask God for big arms so that our embrace can be as wide and allencompassing as God’s.

What about you? Whom do you need to embrace? Whom do you need to love? Should you reach out to a friend that you haven’t talked to in a very long time? Do you need to write a letter to an estranged family member letting him or her know that you want to meet? Is it time to simply stop and ask God to help you see the other side of the argument?

Should you invite the stranger, the homeless, the hurting into your home and into your heart? Do you need to learn to love the sinner without taking God’s place as the judge, laying down self-righteousness and picking up God’s righteousness— along with God’s love?

How big are God’s arms? I don’t know. What I do know know is that they likely are much bigger than we can imagine, and we would do well to realize that they are big enough to embrace all of us.

Melody Keller lives in Wales, Maine, and is a member of the Lewiston (Maine) Church of the Brethren.