The Otherness of God
- Matt Redman Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2004 7 Sep
Worship thrives on wonder. We can admire, appreciate and perhaps even adore someone without our having a sense of wonder. But we cannot worship without wonder. For worship to be worship, it must contain something of the otherness of God.
I've come to love that word—"otherness." It's such a great worship word. Otherness gives us a sense that God is so pure, matchless and unique that no one else and nothing else even comes close. He is altogether glorious—unequalled in splendor and unrivalled in power. He is beyond the grasp of human reason—far above the reach of even the loftiest scientific mind. He is inexhaustible, immeasurable and unfathomable—eternal, immortal and invisible. The highest mountain peaks and the deepest canyon depths are just tiny echoes of His proclaimed greatness. And the blazing stars above, the faintest emblems of the full measure of His glory.
Many music critics note that the skill of songwriter Bruce Springsteen lies in his ability to take the everyday, the ordinary, and make it sound extraordinary. Sometimes in the Church we find ourselves doing the total opposite—we take the extraordinary revelation of God and somehow manage to make Him sound completely ordinary! We fail to communicate the sense of God's otherness. As A. W. Tozer puts it, "Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms."
Time after time the book of Isaiah reminds us of the uniqueness of God: "I will not give my glory to another" (42:8). "I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God" (44:6). "To whom will you compare me or count me equal?" (46:5). "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (46:9). In light of Scriptures like these, I'm becoming more and more wary of worship songs that seem to make God merely sound like our equal. Once or twice people have shown me a worship song and said, "This is great. The lyrics are so down to Earth that you wouldn't even know you're singing to God—it could be a normal pop song or a love song." Now, I guess the point they're making is cultural relevance, and that's a good point to make, but there is a higher value in worship than cultural relevance: the glory of God.
God will not be diluted, dumbed down or patronized. He rebukes worshippers in Psalm 50: "You thought I was altogether like you" (v. 21).
But He is not like one of us. He is utterly incomparable—beyond the furthest horizon of our imaginations. He is off the scale of our comprehension. We have merely known the shallows of the mighty deep.
A while back I bought my daughter a couple of little goldfish. I've never really been one for keeping pets, but I figured that these tiny creatures were probably quieter and tamer than most. So there they swam, up on the mantelpiece, apparently forgetting everything every one and a half times around the bowl. The very next day I found myself watching a documentary about creatures of the deep sea. Right down in the depths of the ocean, the camera was capturing the most fascinating images of wild fish and other strange sea creatures. I sat glued to the screen—so many varieties, so much untamed beauty. And there in the background were Maisey's little tame goldfish, doing yet another lap of the bowl.
Sometimes in the Church, I worry that we've settled for "goldfish bowl" worship. We convey a tame and domesticated God, and we then find ourselves stuck in the endless pursuit of the ordinary. But the call is to venture out into the ocean, to encounter the extraordinary and to explore the mighty depths of God. And though our earthly gathered worship times may never fully sound the depths of His glory, beware of those who don't even attempt to do so.
Back to Psalm 50 and we discover that God doesn't even need our worship: "If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it" (v. 12).
Do we detect a harsh tone in the voice of God here? Yes, we most certainly do. This is the voice of the all-sufficient King of the universe. He does not need to be sustained, supported or sponsored. He is not in urgent need of our offerings, like a TV charity fundraiser, urgently appealing for as many contributions as possible. Charles Spurgeon wrote:
Do men fancy that the Lord needs banners and music, and incense, and fine linen? If He did, the stars would emblazon His standard, the winds and the waves become His orchestra, ten thousand times ten thousand flowers would breathe forth perfume.
The apostle Paul echoes the same truth in his speech to the men of Athens: "He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else" (
The plain truth is this: God has absolutely no need of our offerings. In fact, every single thing our open hands bring to Him—whether a good deed, a tithe or a simple act of compassion—came to us first from His hand. We cannot even offer a simple song of praise without using the breath God first gave to us.
The book of Romans hammers this point home: "Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?" (
But the picture of God's otherness is only really complete when we add to the mix the reality of His outrageous grace. It's true that God does not need our worship. But there is a crowning beauty that completes this truth—God loves our worship. God delights in our honest and heartfelt offering of worship. Let's dwell on that mystery for a moment. Here is the all-sufficient Creator of the universe who could get along just fine without our little contributions. And yet He rejoices and delights in every adoring response to Him. It is the joy of a doting Father over a cherished child. It is the pleasure of a mighty King over a faithful and treasured servant. Just as we cannot begin to imagine the heights and depths of His great glory, so too we cannot begin to fathom the infinite measures of His fatherly love and grace.
And as the ultimate affirmation of this heart of welcome, God has even paid the price for us to draw near to Him in worship. We've seen that everything we could ever offer to God in worship has been provided by Him in the first place. But even forgetting the gifts themselves, the very means of our access into His presence is all of His own provision. It is a gifted response. We could never enter by our own efforts. We come to the Father on the merit of what Jesus has done. In light of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension, we come through Jesus, in Jesus and with Jesus. And we come too in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So not only does God receive with delight gifts that belonged to Him in the first place, but He also pays the costliest of prices for their delivery. In human terms, this seems a little strange. How can that be a meaningful gift? Surely the giver must pay the full price? But we cannot measure God by our human standards. This extravagant act of grace is yet another reminder of His incredible uniqueness. His ways and His thoughts are way higher than we could ever imagine.