I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “You can’t put God in a box”
It usually means, “don’t limit God” or “God can do whatever he wants”, which in premise I absolutely agree with.
I have been thinking about this ubiquitous statement of late. I’ve been thinking about it in light of what Martin Luther calls, the hidden and revealed God. The hidden God is the mysterious God for whom Moses only saw his backside. The hidden God is the God who smote Uzzah for touching the ark of the covenant, the hidden God is the God who is, “holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.”(Rev. 4:8) Because we are sinners, we are constantly trying to relate to God on our terms; meeting God in places where he’s chosen to remain hidden. We are, to quote Luther, “always trying to look up God’s skirt.”
“You can’t put God in a box”..except when God puts himself in a box. Which is exactly how he comes to us, by clothing himself, hiding himself behind his humanity so that we can know him without being destroyed by him.
God puts limits upon himself so that we can relate to him. Jesus, the NT tells us, set aside some of his divine privileges (Phil. 2:7) as he walked the dusty streets of Galilee. God hides himself so that he can reveal himself. That means, however, the way in which we know and experience God is limited. It means that we don’t get to reinvent ways to hear from him. Jesus is the revealed God, he is the hidden God (in all of his majesty) come to us in a way in which we can know him.
We come to God through Word (Jesus) and sacrament (gospel). The written word of God, albeit large and difficult to understand at times, is all about Jesus, everything points to him. The sacraments — baptism and communion are physical demonstrations of God’s grace given to us in and through Jesus Christ. He baptizes us into his death and life and he speaks his word of forgiveness (I forgive you) to us over and over again through communion. There are no other ways to approach God. Some want to find God in creation; but the God you find in creation is the naked God in all of his holiness and perfection. Others attempt to know God by their good works; wrongly thinking that they can earn God’s favor and blessing by their piety. This too is a futile attempt, a fly pooping on the ocean of God’s holiness hoping to make an impression.
This isn’t to say that knowing God is impossible, it’s to say that knowing God is limited…it’s limited to the way in which he designed. Throughout the OT we find God revealing himself in very limited ways: through a specific nation (which he created), in very specific locale (the Tabernacle or Temple), in a specific manner (through blood sacrifice). When you read through this section of the Bible it can seem like an overwhelming amount of detail is being given. But it’s all pointing to something greater, to someone who would come through Israel but create a better nation (the Church), someone who would be the better Temple, and would offer himself as a sacrifice once for all — Jesus. Jesus is God in human flesh, the naked God clothed for all humanity to see. Yes, God can be put into a box. A box that looks a lot like a manger, or carpenter’s hammer, or a cross.
This is Christianity…it’s beautifully simply and yet extremely complex.