Forming Faith Blog

You’ll Need a Bigger Box (1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13)

You cannot put limits on the limitless or fathom the unfathomable. Forget about thinking outside of the box…there is no box.

An empty cardboard box.
Lost in the Warehouse

A few years back, I had some surgery. I banged my head on the tailgate of my car as I was loading the back end. The next day I had a bump the size of a golf ball. When it didn’t dissipate, I went to my family doctor, who took one look and said, “You’re having surgery…today.” By that afternoon, I was being put under to have a blood clot removed from my scalp. Here’s the weird part, when I came out of the anesthetic, I was lying on a piece of plywood somewhere in the middle of that giant warehouse you see at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

No one was around, just me and all those huge wooden boxes. I kept thinking the Ark of the Covenant is here somewhere, and I should find it.  I tried to get up, but someone, probably the voice of God (since no one else was there), said, “Stay down, Mr. Case.” I laid back down on the plywood box. When I woke up again, I was in a regular hospital room, and my wife was there beside me.  I briefly mentioned to the doctor that I had been left alone in the giant warehouse at the end of the Raiders movie, he said, “That anesthetic is some powerful s***, isn’t it?”

Do you remember the Raiders movie? The big gold box with the angels on the top. Go back and watch a clip. Now go back and read some of the Ark of the Covenant stories other than this one. Indiana Jones and company raid (see what I did there?) an Egyptian temple and find the Ark of the Covenant. John Williams’ music here says it all. This is a holy place. This is a holy box.

How Big Is This Moment?

To the people who were there, this was one of the biggest moments in the history of moments. Imagine the Macy’s Parade. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the promises of God upon which their entire way of life is based, is here. This temple will house God’s commandments. To the people of Israel, there is no more holy place than this one. Whatever meaningful experiences you’ve had in the past. This one is bigger.  This is where God will speak.

Then we get the cloud, the presence of God, filling the temple. Like air itself. The very presence of God is so powerful it drives the priests right out of the temple.

Sistine-ing God

I grew up with the image of God as the old white man with a beard. For better or worse, it is still my go-to image. George Burns in the movie Oh, God! is another. I understand unfathomable but I need a container to put it in. In Oh, God! (directed by the late genius Carl Reiner), God says, “If I appeared to you how I really am, WHAT I really am, your mind couldn’t grasp it.”

I accept that God is bigger, but I need George Burns. If you could put Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hawking, all of the thinkers who could think so far outside of the box that they didn’t see a box…all of them around one table and let them brainstorm into the wee hours of the night for endless nights they could not even come close to an accurate idea of all that God is. Unfathomable. Yet, God understands this. God lets us write the songs, make the movies, illustrate the children’s Bibles and chapel ceilings with what we think God is. And what we think God is, is not even close.

You Can’t Put God in a Box

To say God only exists in certain places, only listens to certain people, only speaks in one way is making God in OUR image instead of the other way around.

To say that God could not love someone…like THEM or like ME is putting God in that box. It’s setting limits on the limitless.

You can’t put God in a box.

God is too much.

Spirits in the Material World

Any ideas we have about God are too small. Our senses—sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing—these are limitations because we are human.  God is limitless. God cannot be contained, not in a temple and not in our imaginations. Perhaps when we die, and we exchange these mortal bodies for immortal ones, our senses become limitless. I doubt even then we will fathom the unfathomable.

God gave us “boxes” so we could understand each other. It sort of makes the decision on God’s part to put on human skin and come down here even more astounding.

Fathom This

As you tackle this story, challenge your participants (and yourself) with these questions, adapting for age, of course:

  • Where do you meet God? In nature? In music? In literature? Make a list of “connection moments” you remember.
  • Can you think of a place you think God would not go? Can you think of a moment that is too small for God? Have you ever had a why-would-God-even-bother moment?
  • What is your favorite “God-box”? (It’s okay to have these. It helps us grasp what we can.)

Just as we cannot limit how big God is, we also cannot limit God’s ability to appear to us where we are, AS we are. Our petty human ideas?  God brushes those off his shirt like dust. Yeah, I know, shirt, dust, even “his”—more boxes, right? Maybe if we opened OUR boxes, God could make the God-self known. The littlest God moments could be like God’s presence filling the temple.

May the God who exists beyond the boundaries of space and time crawl up beside you on the couch and make everything ok.

Steve Case

Steve Case is a 30+ year youth ministry veteran. He’s written books reimagining the words of a 17th Century monk as well as three books of biblical Dad-jokes. His latest book is called F**k Death. It’s a hard-core guide to grieving for those who are sick of pity and condolences.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Building God’s House” from our intergenerational worship resource Living the Word: Youth (NL) home devotional resource which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

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