Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Illustrated Summary of Your God Is too Small by J.B. Phillips

Too many of us, says J.B. Phillips, are crippled by a limited idea of God. Resident Policeman, Pale Galilean, and Perennial Grievance are some of the stereotypes he demolishes before suggesting ways we can discover the real God of the Bible for ourselves. J.B. Phillips is the Anglican minister well known for his highly readable New Testament in Modern English, which he began during World War II when ministering to teens and young adults having a hard time understanding older Bible translations. (Click here to read C.S. Lewis's lively, intelligent endorsement of Phillips's Bible translation.) Your God Is too Small emerged from a growing conviction that "if it is true that there is Someone in charge of the whole mystery of life and death, we can hardly escape a sense of futility and frustration until we begin to see what He is like and what His purposes are."


1. Resident Policeman

"To many people conscience is almost all that they have by way of knowledge of God. This still small voice which makes them feel guilty and unhappy before, during, or after wrongdoing...controls their conduct. It is this which impels them to shoulder the irksome duty and choose the harder path. Now no serious advocate of a real adult religion would deny the function of conscience, or deny that its voice may at least give some inkling of the moral order that lies behind the obvious world in which we live. Yet to make conscience into God is a highly dangerous thing to do. For one thing...conscience is by no means an infallible guide; and for another it is extremely unlikely that we shall ever be moved to worship, love, and serve a nagging inner voice that at worst spoils our pleasure and at best keeps us rather negatively on the path of virtue. Conscience can be so easily perverted or morbidly developed in the sensitive person, and so easily ignored and silenced by the insensitive, that it makes  a very unsatisfactory god.... Unless there is a God by whom 'right' and 'wrong' can be reliably assessed, moral judgements can be no more than opinion, influenced by upbringing, training, and propaganda."

2. Parental Hangover

"Quite a lot of ordinary people...have an abnormal fear of authority, or of a dominating personality of either sex, which could without much difficulty be traced to the tyranny of a parent. Conversely there are many who...are imperfectly adjusted to life, and whose inner sense of superiority makes them difficult to work or live with. It would again not be difficult to trace in their history a childhood of spoiling and indulgence, in which the child's natural self-love was never checked or directed outward into interest in other people.... But what has this to do with an inadequate conception of God?... Christ Himself taught us to regard God as a Father. Are we to reject His own analogy? Of course not, so long as we remember that it is an analogy. When Christ taught His disciples to regard God as their Father in Heaven He did not mean that their idea of God must necessarily be based upon their ideas of their own fathers.... There may have been many of His hearers whose fathers were unjust, tyrannical, stupid, conceited, [irresponsible], or indulgent. It is the relationship that Christ is stressing. The intimate love for, and interest in, his son possessed by a good earthly father represents to men a relationship that they can understand, even if they themselves are fatherless! The same sort of relationship, Christ is saying, can be reliably reckoned upon by man in his dealings with God.... It is only when we limit the mind's stirrings after its Maker by imposing upon it half-forgotten images of our own earthly parents, that we grow frustrated in spirit and wonder why for us the springs of worship and love do not flow. We must leave behind 'parental hangover' if we are to find a 'big enough' God."

3. Grand Old Man

"The 'Grand Old Man' is treated with reverence and respectlook what a help He was to our forefathers!but He can hardly be expected to cope with the complexities and problems of life today! If the absurdity of this 'split' makes us laugh, so much the better. There is much in our Churches and religious teaching generally that tends to encourage the 'old-fashioned' concept. The Bible is read in beautiful but old-fashioned language, as a rule.... At baptism, matrimony, and burial, we continue to use language which ordinary people can hardly understand, but which they feel vaguely is old-fashioned and out of touch with their actual lives.... People often scathingly criticize the youth of today for having no 'historic sense.' But surely that is hardly to be wondered at. So great and far-reaching have been the changes in modern life that the young man of today cannot see any but the slenderest connection between what appears to him the slow simple and secure life of a bygone generation and the highly-complex fast-moving life of the world today.... It will be look back into human history at the actual events which are the foundation of the Christian view of God. But it will be just as necessary to return, armed with the essential historical facts, to the modern world. No figure in history, however splendid and memorable, can possibly satisfy the mind which is seeking the living contemporary God."

4. Meek and Mild

"Of all the epithets that could be applied to Christ, this seems one of the least appropriate. For what does 'mild,' as applied to a person, conjure up to our minds?... Someone who would let sleeping dogs lie and avoid trouble wherever possible; someone of a placid temperament...someone who is a bit of a nonentity, both uninspired and uninspiring. describe a Man who did not hesitate to challenge and expose the hypocrisies of the religious people of His day: a man who had such 'personality' that He walked unscathed through a murderous crowd; a man so far from being a nonentity that He was regarded by the authorities as a public danger; a man who could be moved to violent anger by shameless exploitation or by smug complacent orthodoxy; a man of such courage that He deliberately walked to what He knew would mean death, despite the earnest pleas of well-meaning friends!... Jesus Christ might well be called 'meek,' in the sense of being...humble and utterly devoted to what He considered right, whatever the personal cost; but 'mild,' never!... The danger of the 'meek-and-mild' idea is two-fold. First, since Christians believe that the character of Christ is an accurate depiction in time and space of the character of the Eternal Deity, it is apt to lead to a conception of God that is wooly and sentimental.... The second danger is that since it is axiomatic with Christians that God is love, this most terrible and beautiful of all the virtues becomes debased and cheapened.... To speak the truth was obviously to [Jesus] more important than to make His hearers comfortable: though, equally obviously, His genuine love for men gave Him tact, wisdom, and sympathy. He was Love in action, but He was not...mild."

5. Absolute Perfection

"It can be so easily be argued that since God is Perfection, and since He asks the complete loyalty of His creatures, then the best way of serving, pleasing, and worshiping Him is to set up absolute 100 percent standards and see to it that we obey them. After all, did not Christ say, 'Be ye perfect'?... But the conscientious, sensitive, imaginative person who is somewhat lacking in self-confidence and inclined to introspection, will find 100 percent perfection truly terrifying.... The tragedy is often that the 100 percent god is introduced into the life of the sensitive by the comparatively insensitive, who literally cannot imagine the harm they are doing. What is the way out? The words of Christ, 'Learn of Me,' provide the best clue.... way of living... To 'learn' implies growth; implies the making and correcting of mistakes; implies a steady upward progress toward an ideal. The 'perfection' to which Christ commands men to progress is this ideal. The modern high-pressure Christian of certain circles would like to impose perfection of 100 percent as a set of rules to be immediately enforced, instead of as a shining ideal to be faithfully pursued.... Such a distortion of Christian truth could not possible originate from the One who said His 'yoke is easy' and His 'burden light' [Matthew 11:30], nor by His follower St. Paul, who declared after many years' experience that he pressed toward the marknot that he had already attained it or was already perfect [Philippians 3:13]. The true ideal...stimulates, encourages, and produces likeness to itself.... Who would deny the father's interest in the prodigal son when his Spiritual Index was at a very low figure indeed? God is truly Perfection, but He is no Perfectionist, and 100 percent is not God." 

6. Heavenly Bosom

"The Jesus of the Gospels...would have discouraged any sentimental flying to His bosom and often told men to go out and do most difficult and arduous things. His understanding and sympathy were always at the disposal of those who needed Him, yet the general impression of His personality in the Gospels is of One who was leading men on to fuller understanding and maturity. So far from encouraging them to escape life, He came to bring...'life more abundant' [John 10], and in the end He left His followers to carry out a task that might have daunted the stoutest heart. Original Christianity had certainly no taint of escapism. A gibe...leveled at the early Church was that Christians were nearly all drawn from the criminal or...slave classes. The answer to the amount of truth contained in that thrust is that those who knew they were sinners, and those who knew how hard life could be, were naturally more likely to respond to a Gospel offering a solution to the sinful and oppressed, than those who thought they were 'good' and were comfortably protected against many of life's cruelties. But the Christians did not remain criminals after their conversion, and many of the slaves...became capable and responsible.... Today the gibe is that the message of Christianity attracts only the psychologically immature. Even if that charge were true, the answer to it would be that those who know that they are at [odds] with themselves are more likely to respond to a Gospel offering psychological integration (among other things), than those who feel perfectly competent and well-adjusted. Nevertheless the true Christian does not long remain either immature or in internal conflict."

7. God-in-a-Box

"The man who is outside all organized Christianity may have...a certain reverence for God, and a certain genuine respect for Jesus Christ (though he has probably rarely considered Him and His claims with his adult mind). But what sticks in his throat about the Christianity of the Churches is...they seem to him to have captured and tamed and trained to their own liking Something that is really far too big ever to be forced into little man-made boxes with neat labels upon them.... Of course, it is easy to leap to the defense of the Churches, and point out that every cause must be organized if it is to be effective, that every society must have its rules, that Christ Himself [is building the] Church [Matthew 16].... No denomination has a monopoly of God's grace, and none has an exclusive recipe for producing Christian character. It is quite plain to the disinterested observer that the real God takes no notice whatever of the boxes; the Spirit, like the wind, 'blows where it wishes' [John 3] and is subject to no regulation of man. Moreover, our thoughtful observer...has done a good deal of thinking on his own. The discoveries of modern physical and biological science, of astronomy, and of psychology, have profoundly influenced his conception of the 'size' of God. If there be a Mind behind the immense complexities of the phenomena that man can observe, then it is...of a Being tremendous in His power and wisdom: it is emphatically not that of a little god. It is perfectly conceivable that such a Being has a moral purpose which is being worked out on the stage of this small planet. It is even possible to believe that such a God deliberately reduced Himself to the stature of visit the earth in Person, as all Christians affirm.... The 'outsider' who knows nothing of the mixture of tradition, conviction, honest difference, and hidden resentment that lies behind the division of the Christian Churches sees clearly the advantage of a united Christian front.... There are many honest differences held with equal sincerity, but... [some people within] different denominations are (possibly unconsciously) imagining God to be Roman or Anglican or Baptist...or what have you. If they could see beyond their little inadequate god, and glimpse the reality of God...the result would be a unity that actually does transcend differences."

8. Managing Director

"There is a conception of God which seems at the first sight to be very lofty and splendid, but which proves paradoxically enough on examination to be yet another of the 'too small' ideas.... We may feel, since God is so huge...that we cannot conceive His taking...detailed interest in a single human life...: 'I cannot imagine such a tremendous God being interested in me,' and so on. He 'cannot imagine'...means simply that his mind is incapable of retaining the ideas of terrifying vastness and of minute attention to microscopic detail at the same time. But it in no way proves that God is incapable of fulfilling both ideas (and a great many more).... Man may be made in the image of God; but it is not sufficient to conceive God as nothing more than an infinitely magnified man. There are, for example, those who are considerably worried by the thought of God simultaneously hearing and answering the prayers...of people all over the world. That may be because their mental picture is of a harassed telephone operator.... It is really better to say frankly, 'I can't imagine how it can be done' (which is the literal truth) than to confuse the mind with the picture of an enlarged man performing the impossible.... To hold a conception of God as a mere magnified human being is to run the risk of thinking of Him simply as the Commander-in-Chief who cannot possibly spare the time to attend to the details of His subordinates' lives.... We need a God with the capacity to hold...both Big and Small in His Mind at the same time. This, the Christian religion holds, is the true and satisfying conception of God revealed by Jesus Christ."

9. Second-hand god

Treat Second-Hand Information with Caution
"Probably most of us would be greatly shocked if it could suddenly be revealed to us how small a proportion of our accumulated 'knowledge of the world' is due to first-hand observation. The significance of this second-hand knowledge of life to the subject we are considering is this: ...if...our knowledge of life is...faulty or biased or sentimental, we are quite likely to find ourselves with a second-hand god who is quite different from the real one. There are three main ways in which...books, films, and plays [etc.] can mislead us, and in consequence profoundly affect the idea we unconsciously hold of God and His operation in human life: 1. The tacit ignoring of God and all 'religious' issues, 2. The willful misrepresentation of religion, 3. The manipulation of providence.... It would be a profound mistake to confuse the organized disasters of even the greatest writer of tragedy with the complex circumstances and factors which attend the sufferings of real life.... One tiny slice of real life, observed at first hand, provides better grounds for our conclusions than the whole fairy world of fiction."

10. Perennial Grievance

"To some people the mental image of God is a kind of blur of disappointment.... They have set up in their minds what they think God ought or ought not to do, and when He apparently fails to toe their particular line they feel a sense of grievance.... God will inevitably...disappoint the man who is attempting to use Him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort for his own plans.... The cumulative effect over the centuries of millions of individuals choosing to please themselves rather than the Designer of 'the whole show' has infected the whole planet.... Once we admit the possibilities of free-will we can see that injustices and grievances are inevitable. As Christ once said: 'It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come' [Matthew 18:7].... We may not agree with the risk that God took in giving Man the power to choosewe might even have preferred God to make a race of robots who were unfailingly good and cheerful and kind. But...we have to accept the Scheme of Things as it is, and if we must blame someone it is surely fairer to blame Man who has chosen wrongly and produced a world awry. The people who feel that God is a Disappointment have not understood the terms on which we inhabit this planet. They are wanting a world in which good is rewarded and evil is punishedas in a well-run kindergarten.... There is, of course, nothing wrong with their sense of justice. But God...withholds His allow room for His plan of free-will to work itself out. Justice will be fully vindicated.... We can...postulate an imaginary God with less good sense, love and justice than we have ourselves...but that road leads nowhere. You cannot worship a Disappointment."

11. Pale Galilean

Representing a Pagan, not Christian, View
"If they were completely honest, many people would have to admit that God is to them an almost entirely negative force in their lives.... They are living endorsements of Swinburne's bitter lines: 'Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean, the world has grown grey from Thy breath'.... Their god surrounds them with prohibitions but he does not supply them with vitality and courage.... They do not get the chance to admire and love and worship in wordless longing One who is overwhelmingly splendid and beautiful and lovable.... Their lives are cramped and narrow and joyless because their god is the same.... The New Testament [is] a book full of freedom and joy, courage and vitality.... If ever a book taught men to...stand and do battle, to be far more full of joy and daring and life than they ever were without Godthat book is the New Testament!... The question for [dour religious people] is: dare they defy and break away from this imaginary god with the perpetual frown and find the One who is the great Positive, who gives life, courage and joy, and wants His sons and daughters to stand on their own feet?"

12. Projected Image

"A harsh and puritanical society will project its dominant qualities and probably postulate a hard and puritanical god. A lax and easy-going society will probably produce a god with about as much moral authority as Father Christmas. The same tendency is observable in individual cases.... The god whom we imagine may have his face set against drunkenness (an evil which, though it does not tempt us, fills us with horror and indignation), may turn a blind eye to our business methods because he feels, as we do, that 'business is business'! Obviously, unless the conception of God is something higher than a Magnification of our own Good Qualities, our service and worship will be no more and no less than the service and worship of ourselves. Such a god may be a prop to our self-esteem but is, naturally, incapable of assisting us to win a moral victory and will be found in time of serious need to fade disconcertingly away.... If we are to be moved to real worship and stirred to give ourselves, it must be by Something not merely infinitely higher but Something 'other' than ourselves."

13.God in a Hurry

"If there is one thing which should be quite plain to those who accept the revelation of God in Nature and the Bible it is that He is never in a hurry. Long preparation, careful planning, and slow growth would seem to be leading characteristics of spiritual life. Yet there are many people whose religious tempo is feverish. With a fine disregard for its context they flourish like a banner the text, 'The king's business requires haste' [1 Samuel 21:8], and proceed to drive themselves and their followers nearly mad with tension and anxiety!... It is  study the poise and quietness of Christ. His task and responsibility might well have driven a man out of his mind. But He was never in a hurry, never impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock. He was acting, He said, as He observed God to actnever in a hurry."

14. God for the Elite

"It is characteristic of human beings to create and revere a 'privileged class,' and some modern Christians regard the mystic as being somehow spiritually a cut above his fellows.... The New Testament does not subscribe to this flattering view of those with a gift for mystic vision. It is always downright and practical. It is by their fruits that men shall be known: God is no respecter of personstrue religion is expressed by such humdrum things as visiting those in trouble and steadfastly maintaining faith despite exterior circumstances. It is not, of course, that the New Testament considers it a bad thing for a man to have a vision of God, but there is a wholesome insistence on such a vision  being worked out in love and service.... There provision for a 'privileged class' in genuine Christianity. 'It shall not be so among you,' said Christ to His early followers, 'all you are brothers' [Matthew 20:26; 23:8]."

15. God Without Personality

"This conception is one of the most 'enlightened' and 'modern.' God is completely de-personalized and becomes the Ultimate Bundle of Highest Values.... It is manifestly impossible for any except the most intellectual to hold in his mind (let alone worship and serve) a god who is no more than what we think to be the highest values raised to the nth degree."

16. Gods by Any Other Name

"Man has rightly been defined as a 'worshiping animal.' If for some reason he has no God he will unquestionably worship something. Common modern substitutes are...the State, success, efficiency, money, glamor, power, even security. Nobody, of course, calls them 'God'; but they have the influence and command the devotion which should belong to the real God. It is only when a man finds God that he is able to see how his worshiping instinct has been distorted and misdirected."


Letting in the Light
"It is not our intention to build up merely a bigger and better god, who may be just as much an artificiality as any of the unattractive galaxy we have discarded. What we are going to try to do is to open the windows of the mind and enlarge the aperture through which the light of the true God may shine. If a man lives in a light-proof room the sun may shine in dazzling splendor and the man himself will know nothing of it. He may light himself a candle... What we are going to do, then, is not to light fresh candles but to take down the shutters."

1. God Unfocused

"Let us fling wide the doors and windows of our minds and make some attempt to appreciate the 'size' of God. He must not be limited to religious matters one particular section of time.... It is not, of course, physical size that we are trying to establish in our minds. (Physical size is not important. By any reasonable scheme of values a human being is of vastly greater worth than a mountain ten million times his physical size.)  It is rather to see the immensely broad sweep of the Creator's activity, the astonishing complexity of His mental processes which science  laboriously uncovers.... To meditate on this broadness and vastness will do much to expose the inadequate little gods, but if we stop there we may get no farther than sensing a vague 'unfocused' God, a de-personalized 'Something' which is after a while peculiarly unsatisfying."

2. Clues to Reality

"The discovery of the enormous energy released by nuclear fission and the unforgettable demonstration of the destructive power of the 'atom bomb' have done us a service in our quest for Reality.... They have demonstrated...that what we call 'matter' is in fact destructible. Those things that we formerly regarded as almost imperishable, such as armourplate and concrete, dissipated into vapour.... This can hardly do other than set our minds to value far more highly than ever before the 'spiritual' values. By these we mean the qualities of spirit, of personality, which are recognizable and assessable, but are incapable either of scientific weighing and measuringand incapable of physical destruction.... Men...used to talk of the 'spiritual' values as shadowy and unsubstantial, and the physical as solid and 'real' and reliable. They are beginning to see that the opposite may well be true.... In all probability everyone is sensitive to beauty, although obviously some are far more so than others. Yet experience shows that even those who are apparently most prosaic are touched, even to their own surprise, by certain forms of beauty.... It is a pointer to something...beyond the present limitations of time and space.... Our feeling for goodness is [another] clue to ultimate Reality.... Both beauty and goodness...exert an effect upon man which cannot be explained in terms of the world that we know, and to this we may add his search for truth.... Why does he, in all ages and in all countries, reach out to find Somethingsomething which will harmonize and explain and complete life's bewildering phenomena?... As food is the answer to hunger, this universal hunger for Truth is unlikely to be without its answer and fulfillment, however hard to find it may be."

3. Is There a Focused God?

"Although everyone knows what is meant by Beauty, Goodness, and Truth, it is impossible to visualize them as absolute values. We can visualize a beautiful thing, but not beauty; a good man, but not goodness; a true fact, but not truth. Yet once we have a beautiful thing held in our minds it is comparatively easy to fill the mind with other beauties; once we consider a truly good man we can expand and develop his qualities until we begin to get some idea of goodness; while if we are once convinced of a certain fact (particularly if we have discovered it ourselves), we can at once think of a world of truthswe begin to visualize the absolute quality of Truth.... Let us now make a further step.... Consider how the Eternal Beingwishing to show men His own Character focused, His own Thought expressed, and His own Purpose demonstratedcould introduce Himself into the stream of human history.... If it is to be done at all God must be man. There could be no convincing focusing of real God in some strange semi-divine creature who enjoys supernatural advantages.... Suppose, then, that God does slip into the steam of history and is born as Baby A. A will...grow up as God 'focused' in humanity, speaking a language, expressing thoughts, and demonstrating life in terms that men can understand....

"If A, then, does enter the life of this is unlikely that A will be recognized as God...for some time. Men would...probably expect some definitely numinous quality to be invariably present. They would expect to feel frightened or to see an aura of divinity, or witness supernormal powers.... That might impress, but it would leave a man where he was before: he would be no nearer understanding or knowing God. He might be dazzled, but he would remain unilluminated.... If A then is revealed as a perfectly adjusted, wholesome, sane, and non-fanatical man, his claim to be God...will be looked upon as fantastic and blasphemous.... Yet there will be, naturally, something about A in addition to a well-balanced and wholesome personality. There will, for instance, be a certain tone of authoritythe quiet assurance of the expert speaking on his own subjectwhen he speaks of the basic facts of life, of man, and of God. Unless their inklings and intuitions are all wrong, men will find, probably not without emotion, that in A's teaching is the quiet logical assembly of all the isolated flashes of insight that they have ever experienced. 'What this man is saying,' some of them...are bound to feel, 'is true. This is reality. This is what we have always hoped God would be like, and this is what we have always felt that life should be like'....

"Quite a number of people in all parts of the world have come to the conclusion that the hypothetical A has appeared in historythat A in fact equals the man Jesus, who was born in Palestine some nineteen centuries ago.... It is, of course, a very big step intellectually (and emotionally and morally) to accept this famous figure of history as the designed focusing of God in human life.... It can only mean that here is Truth, here is the Character of God, the true Design for life, the authentic Yardstick of values, the reliable confirming or correcting of all gropings and inklings about Beauty, Truth, and Goodness about this world and the next. Although an honest adult study of the available records is essential, to decide that Jesus really was the embodiment of God in a human being is not merely an intellectual decision.... Such a unique Fact cannot but affect the whole of our life.... Jesus Christ gave three remarkable indications by which men could know...that His claim and His revelation are true: 1. 'If any man will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself' (John 7:17). 2. 'He who has seen Me has seen the Father' (John 14:9). 3. 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me' (John 14:6).... Let us consider their significance....

Regarding Indicator 1, "Jesus says...there will be no inward endorsement of the truth...He puts forward...until a man is prepared with the purpose of God. This at once rules out arm-chair critics of Christianity and any dilettante appraisal of its merits.... It is plain from the Gospels that Christ regarded the self-loving, self-regarding, self-seeking spirit as the direct antithesis of real living.... 'If any man will come after Me,' He said, 'let him deny himself (...deny his tendency to love himself) and take up his cross (...bear the painful cost of that denial) and follow Me' ( positively according to the principles that I teach and demonstrate). Now the moment a man does this, even temporarily and tentatively, he finds himself in touch with something more real than he has known before.... This...may baffle and infuriate the detached critic, but it is a pragmatic, universal test whose validity cannot fairly be denied." Regarding Indicator 2, "Christ unquestionably claims to present accurately and authentically the Character of God.... He is the aperture through which the immensity and magnificence of God can be begun to be seen.... Those who reject the claim of Jesus have to manufacture, and strenuously uphold by continual mental effort, a nebulous God of ultimate values; those who accept the claim find...that...God becomes real and knowable." Regarding Indicator 3, "If Jesus Christ was God He must say that He is the way, the truth and the life...and...He adds as a matter of unalterable fact that no one comes into contact with God except through Him.... The detached intellectual who will not commit himself knows in his secret heart that he does not know God...yet the man who has accepted the claim of the 'focused God' finds God a living reality.... To accept the claim of Christ after proper and careful thought...will...carry with it an incontrovertible inner endorsement that is worth any amount of argument."

4. Life's Basic Principles

"If we accept Christ's claim to be God we have a right to expect that certain basic facts will be told us on His authority, becomes possible for us to be intelligent and willing co-operators with that whole Scheme of Things...we call Life. Here then are our basic requirements, put into the form of simple questions."

What Sort of Person Is God?

"Christ's answer is...unequivocal. He is 'the Father'.... Once we accept it as true that the whole Power behind this astonishing Universe is of that kind of character that Christ could only describe as 'Father,' the whole of life is transfigured. If we are really seeing in human relationships fragmentary and faulty but real reflections of the Nature of God, a flood of light is immediately released upon all the life that we can see. People, and our relationships with them, at once become of tremendous importance. Much of life...the business of it is in the realm of personality: it is people not things that matter."

What Is the Purpose of Life?

Christ said "there were really two main principles of living on which all true morality and wisdom...depend. The first was to love God with the whole of a man's personality, and the second to love his fellow men as much and in the same way as he naturally loved himself.... with the Invisible and Unchanging, the other with the visible and variable.... A man could not be 'friends with' God on any other terms than complete obedience to Him, and that included being 'friends with' his fellow men.... The purpose of Life would seem to be the gradual winning of men to a willing loyalty to these two principles.... Christ labeled the first one 'primary and most important,' probably because unless principles and values are first established by loving the true God there will not be 'enough love to go round.' The world would go on loving its own selected circle, despising, exploiting or hating those outside it unless their hearts were first attuned to 'the Father.' Those who have exalted the second principle to the neglect of the first have again and again proved the wisdom of Christ's choice of their order."

What Is Really Wrong with the World?

"It is 'out of the heart' [Mark 7:21], according to Christ, that...proceed all those things which spoil relationships whether between individuals or between groups of people. It is obvious, if we accept Christ's two great principles, that 'sin' will lie in the refusal to follow them...the deliberate refusal to allow [love] to flow out either to God or to other people. This accounts for...His surprising reversals of conventional moral judgement. It was pride and self-righteousness and the exploitation of others which called forth His greatest anger. Self-love...He saw as the arch-enemy.... Christ's time...was short and He wasted none of it in dealing with mere symptoms. It was with the motive and attitude of the heart...that He was concerned.... Once the inner affections are aligned with God the outward expression of the life will look after itself."

What Sort of People Does God Intend Us to Be?

To this question Christ gave an explicit answer that is a complete reversal of conventional values and ambitions. Most people think:
* Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world.
* Happy are the hard-boiled: for they never let life hurt them.
* Happy are they who complain: for they get their own way in the end.
* Happy are the nonchalant: for they never worry over their sins.
* Happy are the slave-drivers: for they get results.
* Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world: for they know their way around.
* Happy are the trouble-makers: for people have to take notice of them.
Jesus Christ said:
* Happy are those who realize their spiritual poverty: they have already entered the kingdom of Reality.
* Happy are those who bear their share of the world's pain: in the long run they will know more happiness than those who avoid it.
* Happy are those who accept life and their own limitations: they will find more in life than anybody.
* Happy are those who long to be truly 'good': they will fully realize their ambition.
* Happy are those who are ready to make allowances and to forgive: they will know the love of God.
* Happy are those who are real in their thoughts and feelings: in the end they will see the ultimate Reality, God.
* Happy are those who help others to live together: they will be known to be doing God's work.

"Christ is...outlining...human characteristics which [co-operate] with the purpose of Life, and...exposing the conventional mode of living which is at heart based on self-love and leads to all kinds of unhappiness.... Once more we find Christ placing His finger not upon the externals, but upon the vital internal attitude."

What Are We to Make of Pain, Disease, Injustice, and Evil?

"Christ coped with them personally by restoring, wherever possible, the true order of health, sanity, and constructive goodness. He made no promise that those who followed Him...would enjoy special immunity from pain and sorrownor did He Himself experience such immunity. He did, however, promise enough joy and courage, enough love and confidence in God to enable those who went His way to do far more than survive.... They would be able to take the initiative and destroy evil with good. Although Christ gave no explicit explanation of the existence of pain and evil in the world, He gave certain implied facts.... 1. The 'breaking of the rules' means suffering. The operation of self-love on a huge scale, which means a wholesale breaking of His two fundamental rules for human life, cannot but mean a highly complex and widespread 'infection' of suffering.... 2. Christ spoke, and acted, on the assumption that there is a power of evil operating in the world... [that is] the unremitting enemy of those who want to follow the new, true order.... Christ, God-become-Man, did not give men a full explanation of the origin and operation of the evil forces in the world. (It is perfectly possible that in our present space-time existence we could not comprehend it, anyway.) But He did recognize evil as evil...and He did talk of the positive resources" that will inevitably bring its defeat, which "we must consider a little later."

5. Christ and the Question of Sin

"Where the sense of God becomes something like a reality there springs up, sooner or later, a sense of guilt and failure.... And where there is this sense of sin there is a deeply rooted conviction that 'something ought to be done about it'.... When a man sees not merely that his life is out of harmony with God's purpose, but realizes that disharmony has injured and infected the lives of other people, he begins to feel a 'sinner' in earnest.... There are...several other genuine ways in which a man feels a moral failure before God... He will, sooner or later, realize what may be described as the bankruptcy of his position.... If his sense of sin is more than superficial he will feel two things, First that some rapprochement must be made between his sinful self and the moral perfection of God.... Second, he will need some assuring that he can be, and is, accepted into fellowship with God.... Observe how [Christ] dealt with the question of sin and man's reconciliation with God... 1. Christ very rarely called men 'sinners' and as far as we know never attempted deliberately to make them feel sinners, except in the case of the entrenched self-righteous.... This is not, of course, to say that the life and words of Christ did not produce that genuine sense of guilt and failure...outlined above. 2. We find Christ unequivocally claiming the right 'to forgive sins'.... 3. Suppose now that God...deliberately exposes Himself to the consequences of the world's self-love and sin.... We view the Character of God in an entirely different light if we see Him not abrogating justice, not issuing a mandate of reversal of natural law and order, but overcoming a repugnance which we cannot begin to imagine by letting Himself be Representative Man and suffering in His own Person the logical and inevitable suffering and death which the world has earned.... We cannot imagine what this would involve, but even to begin to think that it might be true takes the breath away."

6. Satisfactory Reconciliation

"When a man sees that God took the initiative in establishing a rapprochement between Himself and Man and underwent the (for Him) indescribable ignominy of death, his attitude toward God is from then on profoundly changed. The inarticulate but incurable sense that 'something ought to be done about it' almost miraculously set at rest. Though it may defeat his reason to define exactly what has been done, a man knows that the 'something' has been done. The idea of God, which was almost certainly a discomfort and possibly a entirely changed. The former inevitable Judge is seen to be Lover and Rescuer.... To assent mentally to the suggestion that 'Jesus died for me' is unhappily only too easy for certain types of mind. But really to believe that God Himself cut the knot of man's entanglement by a personal and unbelievably costly act is a much deeper affair. The bigger the concept of God the more the mind staggers at the thought, but once it is accepted as true it is not too much to say that the whole personality is reoriented.... To realize that the effort to justify oneself...can safely be abandoned is an unspeakable relief.... It is a blow to the face of pride and a wrench to the habits of the mind to transfer...confidence to the One Real Perfect Man, who was, and is, also God.... This is what the New Testament means by being saved by faith in Christ.... People in all ages, of all nations, and of widely differing temperaments have [personally applied] Christ's Act of Reconciliation...'The Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me,' wrote St. Paul [Galatians 2:20], as though for the moment the Act affected him alone; but the words have been echoed unprompted by an imposing number since his day."

7. The Resurrection of Christ

"The complete and satisfactory answer to the question of whether a human being could survive the universal experience of death was given by personal demonstration.... It is...impossible to exaggerate the importance of the historicity of what is commonly known as the Resurrection.... Both Christians and anti-Christians...regard the question of whether the Resurrection really took place as the fundamental issue on which the whole Christian claim really depends.... The fact that the recorded appearances were made only to those who were 'on Jesus' side' is enough for one group to conclude that they are of purely subjective value, while for the other it is plain proof that only those who are at heart reconciled to God can even see the reality of Life once it is detached from the present space-time limitations. We...merely ask three questions which must in fairness be answered if the historical fact of the Resurrection is rejected: 1. What Changed the Early Disciples? 2. If the Resurrection Did Not Happen, Who Was Christ? 3. Why Are So Many Christians Sure That Christ Not Only Rose, But Is Alive Today? 

"All the disciples of Jesus deserted Him...and afterwards, with their Leader dead and their hopes at zero, they were living in considerable personal apprehension. Yet within a very short time we find them...filled with an extraordinary courage and spiritual vitality, defying the power of both pagan and Jewish authorities. They are proclaiming openly that they had themselves seen Jesus alive, not once, but several times, after His public execution, and calling all men to share their belief that this Man was indeed God. Nor was this a short-lived spurt of defiant courage, but a steady flame of conviction which baffled, embarrassed, and infuriated the authorities for years as the movement began to spread throughout the then-known world.... The early Christians quite definitely believed that they had seen, touched, handled, and conversed with Christ after He had been crucified, taken down, and laid in a rock-hewn vault sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers.

"Many people...imagine that they can quite easily detach the 'miraculous' element of the Resurrection and still retain Christ as an Ideal, as the best Moral Teacher the world has ever known...But the Gospels, all four of them, bristle with supernatural claims on the part of Christ.... It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that He believed Himself to be God.... If He did not in fact rise, His claim was false, and He was a very dangerous personality indeed....

"The common experience of Christians of all kinds of temperaments and of a great many nationalities for nineteen centuries cannot be airily dismissed. Men and are convinced that the One whom they serve is not a heroic figure of the past, but a living Personality with spiritual resources upon which they can draw. A man may find difficulty in writing a poem, but if he cries, 'Oh, William Shakespeare, help me!' nothing whatever happens.... But if he is at the end of his moral resources or cannot by effort of will muster up sufficient positive love and goodness and he cries, 'Oh, Christ, help me!' something happens at once.... If Christ revealed the true way of living and offered human beings the possibility of being in harmony with the Life of God (i.e. 'eternal life'), it must follow that anyone living in any other way is...incapable of appreciating the quality of real living unless and until he 'takes the plunge' into it. A man may write and argue and even write poems about human love, but he does not know love until he is in it, and even then his knowledge of it only grows as he discards his self-love and accepts the pains and responsibilities as well as the joys of loving someone else. 'If any man will know whether My teaching is human or divine truth,' said Christ, 'let him do the will of God' [John 7:17]. Those who accept this penetrating challenge are convinced that Christ is alive."

8. The Abolition of Death

"The 'focused' God, Jesus Christ, revealed to man not merely adequate working-instructions for meeting life happily and constructively, but also the means by which he could be linked with the timeless Life of God.... Christ on more than one occasion is reported to have spoken of 'eternal life' as being entered into now, though plainly to extend without limitation.... The man who believes in the authenticity of His message and puts his confidence in it already possesses the quality of 'eternal life' (John 3:36, 5:38, 6:47, etc.) of a deeper and more enduring quality (John 10:10, 10:28, 17:3, etc.). If we accept this we shall not be too surprised to find Christ teaching an astonishing thing about physical it affects the man whose basic trust is in Himself: 'If a man keeps My Word He will never see death' (John 8:51); 'Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die' (John 11:26).... 'Christ Jesus...abolished death' [2 Timothy 1:10], wrote Paul many years ago, but there have been...few...who appear to have believed it.... The fact seems to many to be too good to be true.... Once it dawns upon us that God...has actually identified Himself with Man, that He has taken the initiative in effecting the necessary Reconciliation of Man with Himself, and has shown the embark on that immense adventure of Living of which God is the Centre, deaththe discarding of a temporary machine adapted only for a temporary stagemay begin to seem negligible.... It is...only 'in' Christ, 'in' the Representative Man who was also God, that death can be safely ignored and 'Heaven' confidently welcomed.... Death is...a disaster to those who have no grip on the timeless Life of God."

9. Theory into Practice 

Life Is NOT a Closed System
"If a man accepts the fact that the Character of God is focused in Christ, if he accepts as true the Act of Reconciliation and the Demonstration with Death; and if he himself is willing to abandon self-centered living and follow the way of real living which Christ both demonstrated and taught, he is still not out of the wood.... Christ...therefore promised [His followers] a new Spirit who should provide them with all the courage, moral reinforcement, love, patience, endurance and other qualities which they would need.... These are...the very qualities which men so easily 'run short of,' and which, taken together, comprise a character corresponding to...Christ Himself. It is this invasion of human life by...Someone from outside which the modern mind finds difficult to accept. We are all conditioned by the modern outlook, which regards the whole of life as a closed system.... If a man honestly wants to follow the way of Christ and...opens his own personality to God, he will without any doubt receive something of the Spirit of God. As his own capacity grows...he will receive more. John goes so far as to call this the receiving of God's own seed (1 John 3:9)...the man's own real self is purified and heightened, and though he will come to bear a strong family likeness to Christ, he more 'himself' than he was before.... The fact of Christ's coming is...a shattering denial of the closed-system idea.... What else is His continual advice to 'have faith in God' but a call to refuse, despite all appearances, to be taken in by the closed-system type of thinking? 'Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you' [Matthew 7:7]what are these famous words but an invitation to reach out for the Permanent and the Real? If we want to co-operate the Spirit is immediately available."

10. Summary

"We can never have too big a conception of God, and the more scientific knowledge (in whatever field) advances, the greater becomes our idea of His vast and complicated wisdom. Yet, unless we are to remain befogged and bewildered...we have to accept His own planned focusing of Himself in a human being, Jesus Christ. If we accept this as fact, as the Fact of history, it becomes possible to find a satisfactory and comprehensive answer to a great many problems, and, what is equally important, a reasonable 'shelf' on which the unsolved perplexities may be left with every confidence. The 'way in' to this faith is partly intellectual and partly a matter of moral commitment. The diagnosis of the world's sickness (and, therefore, of the individuals who comprise the world) is that the power to love has been wrongly directed. It has either been turned in upon itself or given to the wrong things.... The drastic 'conversion' which God-become-Man called for is the reversal of the wrong attitude, the deliberate giving of the whole power to love, first to God and then to other people.... So far we move intellectually, but...this extra-human solution to the world's impasse only comes alive when it is acted upon.... Critics often complain that if the world is in its present state after nineteen centuries of Christianity, then it cannot be a very good religion. They make two ridiculous mistakes. In the first place Christianitythe real thinghas never been accepted on a large scale and has therefore never been in a position to control 'the state of the world,' though its influence has been far from negligible. And in the second place they misunderstand the nature of Christianity. It is not to be judged by its success or failure to reform the world which rejects it.... The religion of Jesus Christ changes people (if they are willing to pay the price of being changed) so that they naturally and normally live as sons and daughters of God.... It is a revelation of the true way of living, the way to know God, the way to live life of eternal quality."
Enjoy Reading Your God Is too Small for Yourself!


  1. Thank you for an enlightening summary of an ever-relevant classic!

    1. You are welcome. I was asked the other day to define classic and have been thinking about it since. Always or "ever-relevant" is a good, short definition--thank you.