Pressing On: Navigating the Full Map of God’s Attributes
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is a winsome narrative of his spotty efforts at hiking the Appalachian Trail, a sojourn that started in Georgia with earnest intent to walk the entire trail to Maine.
By Bryson’s own account this was an extremely ambitious undertaking. Bryson, in his mid-40s at the time, was a total stranger to serious hiking. Not only that, the only person he could persuade to accompany him in this endeavor was an overweight recovering alcoholic college buddy whom we come to know simply as ‘Katz.’
A rude awakening to harsh realities of the AT came quickly. By day three of their journey Bryson and Katz were constantly shivering and everything they had was soaking wet. They pressed ahead to day eight of their pilgrimage when they made a stop in Gatlinburg, TN to dry out and regroup. That’s when Bryson had a revelatory moment.
“We’ve Done Nothing”
Katz needed shoelaces. In the outfitter’s, while Katz made his way to footwear, Bryson ambled about and discovered a full-length map of the AT pinned to the wall. Initially Bryson examined the map with casual interest, top to bottom, simply taking in the full-length depiction of the AT. After a moment, however, he leaned in closer with slack-jawed astonishment.
At the bottom of the map Bryson identified their current ‘you-are-here’ location. Of the entire four-foot map, they had only covered about two inches. Upon being shown the map, Katz remarked with grim amazement, “We’ve done nothing.” Bryson remembers the moment with these words:
“All that we had experienced and done – all the effort and toil, the aches, the damp, the mountains, the horrible stodgy noodles, the blizzards . . . the endless, wearying, doggedly accumulated miles – all of that came to two inches. My hair had grown more than that. One thing was obvious. We were never going to walk to Maine.” (p. 105).
The Map of God’s Attributes
For the past month or so we’ve been thinking about the question, “What is God like?” By now you’ve become familiar with the word ‘attributes.’ Any effort to explore what God is like inevitably leads to a discussion or reflection upon the attributes of God – both the incommunicable attributes (belonging to God alone) and the communicable attributes (the ones we share with God as his image bearers).
Today we’re wrapping up this series of reflections, and I’ll have to confess I feel like Bill Bryson standing in front of that map. On the map of God’s attributes, we’ve only covered an inch or so, if even that. We’ve necessarily been selective, choosing only a handful to teach on and ponder through the week. Regarding the attributes, we could be tempted to say with Katz, “we’ve done nothing.” But I’m hopeful that such a statement would be false when it comes to these past weeks.
Maybe these past weeks have served to whet your appetite for knowing God better. Maybe you’ve realized that you’ve never really given much thought to what God is like, and you want to change that. Maybe you’ve been asking some tough questions along the way (that’s not a bad thing by the way). Maybe your sense of awe and reverence for God has grow a little deeper.
I want to urge you to keep going. Stay on the trail. There’s so much yet to explore and see in the nature and character of God. Here are some very practice things for you to do.
Remember Who You Are
Jen Wilkin, my mentor in print in recent weeks, has wisely noted that when we ask about God’s will for us, we are usually trying to figure out what God wants us to do. We’re seeking an answer to some decision we’re trying to make, or some guidance in a major life event. But God’s will for us isn’t really about doing something as much as it is about becoming someone.
God’s will is that we be conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29).
To seek to discover what God is like is to learn more about who we were meant to be. We were made in God’s image, called to display his likeness in the world, and we do this taking on the attributes of God that he intends to share with us.
Every day seek the help of the Holy Spirit and be intentional about becoming who you were created to be.
Three Good Books
Be a student of God’s attributes. These three books have been very helpful to me throughout this series
- A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy . This is a little classic on the attributes of God, written with short chapters that could be perfect for your daily devotional reading.
- Jen Wilkin, None Like Him: Ten Ways that God is Different from Us and Why that’s a Good Thing. This book deals entirely with ten of God’s incommunicable attributes.
- Jen Wilkin, In His Image: Ten Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character . This is a companion volume to None Like Him and deals with the attributes we can exhibit in our daily lives.
The Very Best Book
Finally, get your hands on the very best book and spend time in it regularly. I cannot say this often enough.
God has chosen to reveal himself to us generally in the creation that surrounds us. But this general revealing takes on clarity and sharpness in the specific revealing we find in the written words of the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ.
To get better acquainted with God, open his book and get to know his son Jesus – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
This coming Sunday at Grace Church you’ll hear this closing word of encouragement. God wills to be known. God is not playing games with us. God is on display in every page of the Bible, so open the book and keep getting acquainted with the one in whose image you were made.
Just because the series is ending doesn’t mean you have to stop. Keep pressing on and spend as many days as God gives you on this planet to navigate the full map of his glorious attributes.
O God, there is none like you – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the words of the poet, were the oceans ink we could not begin to write the fullness of your nature or exhaust your attributes. And yet, you want us to know you, and you have made yourself known in the scriptures and in your Son. Give us an appetite to seek you daily and strengthen us for the journey, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Mark H. Crumpler
*Please note: The Grace Church devotionals will resume on Tuesday September 10 th .