Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Distance Between

IC’s post on immanence/transcendence last week got to me for a number of reasons. (If you haven’t read it, what are you reading this for? Go. Now.)

When I was a little boy, our family crossed the ocean on a liner sizable for its day. I don’t remember much of the journey; I suppose most of it was fairly uneventful. What I do remember vividly is coming up on deck with my father one bright day when the sea was slightly turbulent. It wasn’t stormy, but it was far from calm. Great swells repeatedly arose to starboard, higher (I thought at the time) than the ship itself, gradually dipping and moving slowly and methodically under us. The horizon seemed to disappear and I found myself convinced the deck had tilted at some sort of incredible angle (though I suspect that was only my disconcerted, childish impression).

It was my first experience of “big”, and it stuck.

Down to the Bottom

It occurred to me that one of those waves could easily have rolled right over us and that, had we been sucked down to the bottom of the ocean beneath it, the world moments later would have looked no different to the gulls circling above us. In a brief moment of the perfectly natural, day-to-day operation of the forces of nature, my entire family and hundreds of others aboard would cease to exist … and the world around us would carry on as if we had never been.

Much later, looking back, I realized that would have been just as true if there were presidents, athletes, scholars, actors and famous people aboard as it would if the ship was carrying a few incidental nonentities from one continent to another. Sure, the media would milk it for a few weeks, but the universe would not bat an eyelash.

Not a thought most people care to entertain for long.

But at the time I was not so much scared as thrilled. The thought that what existed out there was vastly bigger than I had ever imagined and simultaneously entirely unconcerned with my welfare was disturbing but also strangely exciting. Perhaps it was the presence of my father, with his years of experience at sea, that subconsciously defined my reaction to the sights around me. He seemed entirely unperturbed.

The Bottom of the Human Pecking Order

You may have had a similar experience. It’s a good thing, I think, to recognize how truly insignificant we are and how little — if we think about it logically — we should rightly matter to the Almighty. As the psalmist put it:

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”

What indeed?

And yet the Lord Jesus never treated people the way nature treats us. I think of him taking the time to engage in a theological discussion with a woman whose insignificance in the grand scheme of things was, well, off the charts. If Judea was a backwater province in the vast and omnivorous Roman empire (and it was), Samaria didn’t even merit the respect of the Jews. And the woman in question was no great luminary in her own home town. At the time the Lord met her, she wasn’t even legally identified as with a particular man, let alone a man of means who would command respect or draw attention.

If the Lord wanted to go right to the bottom of the human pecking order that day, he picked precisely the right person. Why on earth did she matter? What did she know?

What is man (or woman) that God is mindful of us anyway?

Up to the Heavenlies

Here I sit today, one of billions of very, very temporary residents of planet earth, by all accounts a complete nobody, as are you. Walk through an older urban graveyard for a few hours one day if you find yourself forgetting it, and think about how many people still visit the graves or even give a thought to those who died in 1945, or 1915, or 1897. This world, like the waves, rolled on before we walked its surface and will roll on, in all probability, after we leave it. Our lives will not leave a ripple.

And yet in the eyes of the Lord Jesus these lives mattered enough to suffer and die for. In the eyes of God those who were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind, sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Seated with God. What a thought. The cat seated on my lap is a hopelessly inadequate comparison; we’re made of the same dust after all.

But it’s the distance between God and man — the inconceivable, mind-staggering distance in size, value, character, dignity, power and proportion — that makes what Jesus Christ has done for fallen man such an endless wonder.


  1. For lack of better words...*Mind blown* Thank you to both you and IC for these wonderful posts reminding of us of the need to humble ourselves before an awesome God. I've been sharing them with as many people as possible and pray that hearts (mine included) will be drawn to a deeper desire to worship Him as He deserves to be worshiped.

    1. To be a doorman...merely to hold the door and hear the laughter of those inside as they revel in the presence of the Beloved One, this is joy. It is all one can ask, and far more than one can ever deserve.

      Your kind words make all we do here worthwhile. Thank you, David.