A Theology of Size

In light of a long absence from this blog, I feel it necessary to give a slight explanation. Despite anyone’s good intentions, circumstances often get the better of us. Thus have my intentions of posting regularly been thwarted by school and other events. However, I have no regrets, nor do I wish that I had taken time to not do what I did in order to blog. But now, with the semester over I have time and desire once more to enter this means of dialogue. For that’s always what this blog has been – it is not a way for me to think (heaven forbid I only think when I blog – I assure you, kind reader, that I do think outside of cyberspace), but rather a way for me to dialogue with myself and others in a way that forces me to clearly lay out what I am thinking. That said, on to today’s topic of conversation – “A Theology of Size”

“…in patients with chronic hand pain, magnifying their view of their own limb during movement significantly increases the pain and swelling evoked by movement. By contrast, minifying their view of the limb significantly decreases the pain and swelling evoked by movement.”
-Visual Distortion of a Limb Modulates the Pain and Swelling Evoked by Movement (Abstract)

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”
-Isaiah 6:1

We are beings governed by our physicality. To deny this is to deny the fundamental definition of man as physical (in addition of course, to our other less tangible characteristics). Part of being physical is that when we consider the world around us, we are led to define it and view it in light of both its and our physicality. One crucial way we define things is according to size. One need only read the first quote above to realize how big a role size plays in our physical and even psychological view of the world around us. What, then, is the significance of applying a concept of size to the metaphysical, that which cannot actually be measured in anyway?

While this is not a post concerning the way we know God it should be said here that, as Aquinas points out, since we cannot know God’s essence, we can only see the manifestations of his existence. This results in attempted definitions of God in indirect ways, such as ascribing a relative size to a being who cannot possibly be measured. However, even if it is not perfectly accurate (as no definition of God can be), our simple Sunday-school definitions of God as “large” or “big” actually hold deep theological significance.

Consider an ant and an elephant. Many of us, if we are being bothered by an ant have no qualms about either flicking it off our arm or even perhaps killing it. However, if we are being “bothered” by an elephant the scenario would be quite different. It is a much more difficult venture to kill an elephant (many of us would even suggest that it is cruel), and our method of avoidance, rather than flicking, would probably be fleeing. Yet what is the difference between the elephant and the ant? It seems to me to be as basic and fundamental as their size. Were an ant the size of an elephant our reaction to it would be drastically different (see various horror movies about mutant monsters – they invariably tend to be large).

In many ways, our theology of size has great impact on the way we view God. If God is small, able to fit in our side pocket, we can dominate Him; we can throw Him away when He is no longer of any use. But when we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah that just the train of His robe fills the temple, His sheer size overwhelms us and corrects our own desire for authority and power. As we see God to be “big” our feelings of annoyance turn to awe. Simply by having an accurate theology of size and keeping it in mind, our own pride is confronted and rebuked.

Yet, in light of the Christmas season, how does the incarnation affect our theology of size? Does the fact that God became a baby who could be physically contained in a manger change the way we think of God? In no way. We know God never changes and thus we must remember that God is still as “big” as He always was, is and will be. The incarnation points us to awe in a different way – it signifies that a “big” God loved us enough to come to us. If this is not awe-inspiring what is?

May we, then, remember during this season that it is the God of the Universe, a “Big” God, that came down to take on the form of man. May we remember Christ appropriately, not just with love and thanksgiving but also with awe and trembling.

Grace and peace.
-MT

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