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Blog / God Is Bigger Than You Imagine: An Interview with J.D. Greear

God Is Bigger Than You Imagine: An Interview with J.D. Greear

J.D. GreearHow big is your view of God? Do you see him as merely an extension of yourself or as the very source of all that is? How does the Bible describe God? What does it mean in modern times to fear the Lord?

Bible Gateway interviewed J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) about his book, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems (Zondervan, 2018).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog guest post by J.D. Greear, You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus]

You mention that a lot of people have problems with their faith because they have a “small view of God”? What exactly does that mean? And what’s the problem with that?

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J.D. Greear: I first noticed it in myself: I had such difficulty feeling confident in faith, passionate in worship, and bold in my witness that I knew something had to be wrong at the core of my faith. After seeking God in this for more than two decades, I began to realize that at the root of all my problems was a diminished view of God. I imagined God only to be a slightly bigger, slightly smarter version of me. So I expected I’d be able to easily understand his ways and that he would always do what I thought he should do.

In Scripture, however, I encountered a God who was big—not just big, but bigger than all the words we use to say big. Only a God of such incomparable magnitude could account for the universe. Only a God of endless compassion and patience would have pursued our redemption. Only a God that was completely other was worthy of my worship. As Evelyn Underhill once said, “A god that is small enough to be understood is not big enough to be worshipped.”

I started to realize that far too much of my faith was the product of an American culture that prefers to see God as the missing piece of our lives, rather than the source, sustainer, and point of all that exists. You can hear that in how we talk about him, how we worship him, and how casually we treat him. The tragedy is that a small and manageable god, while easier to control, is completely unable to help us in the areas we need it most.

How does a person’s view of the Bible affect his or her view of God?

J.D. Greear: Doubt is a common experience throughout Scripture. The question is whether we respond to that doubt by surrendering in humble-though-still-confused wonder, or by modifying and explaining away what God has said. If we believe that God is beyond our comprehension, but that he’s chosen to reveal himself in Scripture, then we’ll be fervent students of his Word. If we don’t start with a posture of trust in Scripture, we’ll find ourselves quietly molding God to accommodate the prevailing winds of our culture.

What do you mean when you say that “the posture of humility is a prerequisite for faith”?

J.D. Greear: Solomon tells us that the fear of the Lord is the “beginning of knowledge.” That means until we see ourselves for how small and dependent we are, and God for how glorious and awesome he is, we won’t be prepared even to ask the right questions, much less receive the answers. Faith in God, submission to God, and passion for God are all rooted in our understanding how glorious the God speaking to us really is.

How does a person’s doubt reshape God into that person’s image?

J.D. Greear: Doubt isn’t the problem. It’s our response to doubt that matters. Charles Spurgeon once said that doubt was like a raised foot, poised either to move forward or to take a step back. We can never move forward in faith without first picking up the foot.

All too often, though, we allow our doubts to push us backwards by modifying God and his Word to fit our preferences. When we edit God into a form we find more palatable, we’re no longer worshiping any true God, just a deified projection of ourselves. The irony behind this is that the more we allow doubt to change our view of God, the doubts become stronger, not weaker.

Either Jesus is who God said he is or Jesus was an impostor. There really are no other alternatives.

How can a person properly grasp (and be astounded by) the bigness and magnificence of God?

J.D. Greear: We find it simply by looking upward. How big must be the God who spoke the galaxies into existence? Astronomers tell us that there are at least three septillion stars. That’s a 3 with 24 zeroes after it. And each one of these stars puts out roughly the same amount of energy as a trillion atom bombs every second. Some are so big they defy description—like Eta Carinae in our own Milky Way, which is five million times brighter than our sun! God spoke all that into existence with a word.

Most of all, we see his glory in the grand events of our salvation. What was Jesus—this perfect, powerful, pure person—doing by willingly laying down his life for those who either didn’t appreciate him, or worse, scorned him altogether? Who but God would have conceived such a plan?

If God is so splendorous and powerful, why is there so much trouble, disaster, heartache, and evil in the world?

J.D. Greear: Ironically, that God is so splendid and powerful is the only satisfying answer to the difficult question of evil in the world. Many people lose their faith when the “silver lining behind every dark cloud” answer fails to hold up to some painful chapter in their lives or horrific events happening on earth. In Not God Enough, I ask readers to do a thought experiment with me. To go back to our universe, God spoke into existence three septillion one-trillion-megaton-bombs-per-second-energy-producing-exploding-nuclear-spheres with a word. I, on the other hand, can barely lift the corner of my mattress over my head, and only if I wear a back brace and relax for the rest of the day. If the measure of God’s wisdom is as high above mine as his power is above mine, am I really in a place to evaluate it? Would that make any more sense than challenging God to an arm wrestling match? It just makes sense to me that some things may not make sense to me.

The cross shows us, however, that the one thing we can be sure of is that God has not abandoned us. There we see the depths he was willing to go to save us; his willingness to suffer with us. So, whatever the reason for our particular experience of suffering, the one thing we know can’t be is that he’s forgotten about us. The cross proves that can’t be true.

Explain how God is both a God of wrath and a God of love.

J.D. Greear: Wrath is not the opposite of love, but a necessary component of it. When you love something, you hate the thing that destroys it. We hate the cancer that destroys the loved one whose body it attacks. God hates sin precisely because he loves his creation, and us, and his glory that sustains it all. We think we want a God without wrath. But a God without wrath would be a God with no true goodness and no true justice.

Why do you say God is speaking today when it appears that he’s, at best, a silent observer?

J.D. Greear: The Bible is a living book, animated by the living Spirit of the Savior who rose from the dead and promised he would inhabit its pages until he returned. Admittedly, Jesus hides himself from those who do not seek him with an open and humble heart, just as he did in the Gospels. But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, he’s as alive and active today as he was when he walked the streets of Galilee.

What happens to a person’s actions (and general living) when that person has an appropriate understanding of God’s greatness?

J.D. Greear: Rather than seeking to fit God into the margins of your life, you realize your life exists for him. This kind of self-forgetfulness is the secret—if there ever was one—to fulfillment and joy. We were created to be complete only in worship of—and fellowship with—a God who defies our comprehension. What’s more, you’ll develop a sense of calling and confidence in life that will propel you to meaningful and joyful sacrifice on behalf of his kingdom.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

J.D. Greear: I love Isaiah 66:1-2 because it reminds me that the way to know God is through humility, a posture of continual repentance over our proud, sinful hearts, and by faithfully heeding the words God has given us in the Bible.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

J.D. Greear: I love how accessible it makes God’s Word. I use it almost every day!

Not God Enough is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

The Summit is characterized by its gospel focus and sending culture. Under J.D.’s leadership, the Summit has grown from a plateaued church of 300 to one of nearly 10,000, making it one of Outreach magazine’s “top 25 fastest-growing churches in America” for many years running.

Seating capacity, however, is not the church’s primary metric for success. Sending capacity is. J.D. has led the Summit in a bold vision to plant 1,000 new churches by the year 2050. In the last 10 years, the church has sent out more than 650 people to live on church-planting teams—in North Carolina, across the United States, and around the world.

J.D. is a sought-after conference speaker worldwide. His preaching can be heard through the half-hour weekly program, “Summit Life with J.D. Greear,” broadcast nationally on Moody Radio.

J.D. has authored several books, including Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems, Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved, and Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You.

J.D. completed his PhD in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Seeing Muslims come to faith in Christ has long been a burden of his, a burden that led him to serve in Southeast Asia with the International Mission Board.

He and his wife Veronica live in Raleigh. Together they are raising four ridiculously cute kids: Kharis, Alethia, Ryah, and Adon.

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Filed under Books, Interviews, Theology