My wife sits at the dining room table typing on her laptop computer. Her cat lies sprawled across her legs. Every so often my wife reaches down and strokes his fur or gives the root of his ears a scratch. It’s a scene of domestic bliss and contentment. Two beings at peace with one another and enjoying each other’s fellowship.
But as I watch them, another thought occurs to me. What does the cat make of what my wife is doing? The short answer is, nothing. Yes, he sees the screen of her computer. On occasion he seems mesmerized by the movement of my wife’s fingers as she types. Yet there is no comprehension. The cat simply is not equipped to understand what he sees much less grasp its significance. He has no inkling of written communication let alone the abstractions embodied in the computer – ethereal bits and bytes representing concepts and ideas – marks on a screen conveying thoughts.
Leaving technology and the abstract to one side, I wonder sometimes what the cat makes of more ordinary things. Is he puzzled by our clothes? Why and how does his mistress appear this way one day and that way the next? Is he astonished when he sees her remove or put on a sweater? After all, he can’t change his color by swapping his coat. Or, is he even capable of such thoughts?
Does the cat ever wonder about his food? He sees my wife scoop it out of a bag or spoon it out of a can. Does he ever ask where the food comes from or how it gets into the bag or can? Is he even able to form the questions?
From the cat’s perspective so much of what we do must seem random, purposeless, chaotic, beyond comprehension. So much must seem inexplicable or miraculous.
In some ways the gap between God and us is even greater than that between us and the cat. True, we are made in God’s image and the cat is not. Still, we share the same time-space continuum with the cat while God is beyond and outside material nature altogether.
Since God made us in His image we share some of His attributes. Among those attributes, we are moral beings in that we recognize the concept of right and wrong. We think in terms of should and ought. We are capable of abstract thought. And, perhaps one of the most marvelous attributes of God we share (at least when it is directed and tempered by God’s love) is the ability to imagine and create. “God spoke... and it was so.” Like God, we have the ability to conceptualize and visualize things which do not exist. Unlike Him we are unable to create material objects out of nothing, but we can imagine them. We can conceive of things and even beings which do not exist. We tell stories about them. Though, unlike God, we cannot give life to our creations, they live in our imaginations.
My own imagination is not nearly as highly developed as some. I read a lot of fiction and am often amazed at some of the concepts, plots and creatures I encounter in the pages of books (whether paper books or electronic).
The range of human thought and speculation is truly enormous. Yet, in spite of our capacity to imagine, we still cannot really comprehend God. Try as we might, we cannot envision Him as He really is. Part of the problem is that our material nature does not have the capacity to do so. As God told Moses, “...you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20 NIV) At best we can see a representation or an image of Him because, to enter His true presence would destroy the very fabric of our material bodies. “God is spirit...” (John 4:24) The matter and nature of this creation is incompatible with His spiritual nature. The incompatibility is so great Scripture says that when Christ became a man He had to empty Himself and become nothing (Philippians 2:6-7). Our reality is as insubstantial as a shadow or a faint mist compared to God’s presence.
Not only can we not see God as He really is – because it would destroy us as long as we are locked into this creation, we also have another limitation. The Apostle Paul hints at it in an intriguing comment he makes. He writes, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory...” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV) No matter how great our imaginations are – and there are a lot of people who can imagine some pretty far-out stuff – they can’t even begin to compare with God and what He can do. We’re like the cat who is unable to comprehend what my wife does or why she does it.
All this points to one of the great hopes that Christians have: We can’t see much now; we can’t comprehend as we’d like; we don’t have the capacity to even imagine God as He is, but one day those limitations will be taken away. Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV)
John agrees. He writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 NIV)
Peter and John both write about the new heavens and the new earth which God’s people can look forward to. This nature will be destroyed. It’ll be gone and something new will take its place. The “laws of physics” as we know them will no longer operate. It’ll be something totally different because God will dwell with His people and we will be able to see Him as He really is. What will it be like? I don’t know, brother, because it’s beyond what we can imagine!