Saturday, 18 October 2008

Book Review: "When People are Big and God is Small"

In this comprehensive study book on the fear of man and fear of God in the world and in the Bible, Prof. Edward Welch provides a devastating critique of the way our generation treats relationships, and how we make other people into idols. We tend to believe that we can not do without certain individuals or groups of people, and that we need to serve them or do things their way, desiring to please them or win their approval. In this way Welch reveals how we often fear people more than God - and allow other people to be the controlling force over the way we work, drive, day-dream, organise our time and provide for others (etc).

Because we have allowed our feelings about how we are perceived to assume monstrous proportions in our lives, we can feel anxious or proud (or just plain awful) through comparing ourselves to others, or we may encounter recurring feelings of hurtful shame about things we have done in the past – feelings that we then try to cover up and sort out on our own. This all inhibits our worship of God, our creator, and leaves us focused on man instead. By making a god out of “self”, we become controlled by others, afraid of our real appearance, and so we create false identities to hide behind. Being afraid of exposure, we allow the fear of man to dominate our thoughts. And we end up with a self-centred desire to be needed or accepted by others, rather than actually loving them, and being centred on their needs.

Not only does Welch make us aware of how our culture can reinforce our desire to be controlled by people, he also brings home the challenge to our hearts and encourages us to take steps to learn more about the greatness of God. If we grow in our fear of God we will see our false ideas about what life is about for what they are: sinful illusions. As we grow in the fear of Him we should leave fear of people behind, like a dad who discards a pet project because it was keeping him from spending time serving others in the church; our attentions must be focused on the King.

Leading us through passages from the Psalms and Isaiah, and some of the teaching from both Bible Testaments, the latter chapters of the book encourage us, in a clear and helpful way, to dwell on God’s bigness and “otherness”, and to see how he is far above us in both love and justice. It really puts self-centred thinking in its place, and shows up our sin. As I read the book I found the words pressing in on the hidden desires of my heart: I know that all too often I have made life all about pleasing those around me, trying to manage my responsibilities in a way that makes me look good (and being stung by failure), instead of being honest about my sin in front of others and trusting God. Thanks to this book and the advice of friends I know I need to forget my plans to “be the best” and place our gracious, patient Saviour God in centre place. He is the one who has qualified believers to be in his kingdom of perfection and light (Colossians 1:12-14), and it is his astonishingly BIG plan for his glory in the universe (see Ephesians 1) that should be my focus for life. Let’s be thankful that if we are followers of Jesus, God has not only secured an incredible future for us in the gospel, he has promised us that there is power in living a life of service to him, even when it makes us appear weak and foolish in the eyes of others.

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