Up Above and Down Below

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One of my husband and my favorite scenes to quote is from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. In it, Michael Palin is a priest and leads a religious school in praying:

“Oh, Lord. Ooooh, you are so big. So absolutely huge. Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you. Forgive us, our Lord, for this our dreadful toadying, but you’re so strong, and well, just so SUPER.” I highly encourage you to watch the video here.

The priest’s prayer in this scene hilariously depicts how easy it is for us to focus on God’s transcendence — God’s sovereignty, distance, and bigness, as opposed to God’s immanence — God’s intimacy, closeness, and warmth. We see both sides of God’s character throughout the biblical text, and from what I can tell, we run into the biggest theological problems when we forget either God’s transcendence or God’s immanence. When we only focus on God’s transcendence, we lose sight of God’s ability to be with us and among us; when we only focus on God’s immanence, we lose sight of God’s ability to be our protector and advocate.

In the moments in which we get a bit too close to the Monty Python-style prayers, we can see a perfect picture of God’s willingness to be literally and figuratively down-to-earth with us in John 2. In the story, Jesus is at a wedding that runs out of wine. Jesus’ mother asks him to rectify the situation, so he tells the servants to fill six nearby water jugs with water. The jugs were likely for purification before the wedding meal (see The Jewish Annotated New Testament by A.J. Levine, page 161), and would have held between 120 to 180 gallons (check out the CEB Study Bible). Once the servants filled them with water, Jesus had them take a glass to the headwaiter, who tasted the wine and proclaimed, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now” (v. 10). That’s 120-180 GALLONS of top-notch wine.

Jesus turns water into the best wine at the wedding for his first miracle in the gospel of John. We all know what “drinking freely” means — they were having a good time, and Jesus kept that going. Jesus loves community and celebration, and encourages those in this story. He is talking to and relating with those he loves, just as God does in Genesis 2, and reveals His ability to be with us and among us.

So while we should honor God for his sovereignty and bigness, and even sometimes pray the “Oh God, you are so big” prayers, we also get to worship the God who loves to celebrate, to connect, and to serve. Let us keep those in balance today. Let us worship, honor, and praise the God who is so transcendent and bigger than us, and who is also so close and intimate in every moment of our lives.

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