On the day I was born, the doctor who delivered me inscribed my birth records with a firm hand: seven pounds, eleven ounces, twenty-one inches. It was the first legally attested evidence that I was not God.
I would contribute ample proof to that effect in the ensuing years, but during the earliest moments of my life on February 4, 1969, well before I formed my first rebellious thought, uttered my first defiant syllable, or took my first disobedient step, the chasm between who God is and who I am had already been firmly established by the simple fact that I was measurable.
Any discussion of how God is not like us must begin with an acknowledgment that we are measurable and he is not. God is infinite, unbound by limits. He defies measurement of any kind. His limitlessness underlies all of his attributes; his power, knowledge, love, and mercy are not merely great, but they are infinitely so, measurelessly so. No one can place any aspect of who God is on a scale or against a yardstick.
This makes the task of writing a book about his attributes particularly daunting. One of my favorite hymns speaks to the measurelessness of just one of God’s attributes: his love. The hymnwriter reflects on the futility of trying to capture it:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.1
I’m a feeble scribe working with scant ink and a very small scroll. And my task is to share at least a few meager insights about ten of God’s attributes. Ten. I have never been more aware of my limits. But I want to do my part in this ongoing effort to describe the Indescribable. Faithful writers have done so for me. Stephen Charnock, Arthur Pink, A. W. Tozer, and R. C. Sproul have all explored the limitless character of God to my great benefit, and to lengths that I am not competent to go. But I hope in these pages to take the lofty view of God these writers have illuminated and ask a critical question: “How should the knowledge that God is ______ change the way I live?” What measurable change should occur as a result of meditating on God’s immeasurable attributes, as described in the Bible?
Why We Love to Measure
We limited humans are lovers of measurement; we number and count, quantify and track. If you were to look in your pantry, every carton would display the weight of its contents. Every food label would tell you the number of calories, fat grams, and carbs for a particular item. Your gas gauge tells you how much gas is in your tank. Your clock tells you how much time you have until dinner. Your budget tells you how much you can spend. Your social media account measures your circle of friends. We are happily surrounded on all sides by systems of measurement.
Our compulsion to measure is not a recent development. Ancient peoples tracked the movements of the heavens; their tools of measurement are still visible in canyon carvings and monolith rings. They measured tides and seasons, the passing of time. Measurement is the millennia-old obsession of the limited human, who, perceiving his own limits, seeks to transcend them by quantifying his world. That-which-we-can-measure we think we can to some degree control.
One of my favorite movies is Hoosiers (1986). It tells the story of a small-town basketball team from Hickory, Indiana, that finds greatness under the leadership of their coach, Norman Dale. The end of the movie is not hard to predict, and the ’80s synthesizer music in the score is a trial for the nerves. There’s also a scene in which Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey earn the undisputable title of “Most Awkward On-Screen Kiss in the History of Filmmaking.” But at the 1:34 mark, the movie hits a note of brilliance.
Having reached the 1951 state finals, Coach Dale’s team of small-town farm boys gets their first look at where the championship game will be played: a giant gymnasium, easily ten times the size of the small-town high school gyms they have played in all season long. As the players’ eyes widen at the scene, Dale pulls out a tape measure. He asks a boy to measure and report the distance from the backboard to the free throw line. Fifteen feet. He asks two players to measure the distance from the floor to the net. Ten feet.
Smiling slightly, Dale notes, “I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory.”
The scene is brilliant because it illustrates a universal truth: being able to take the measure of something is reassuring. It imparts to us a level of comfort and a sense of control.
We humans attempt to measure not just our environments but also our fellow humans. When we make a new acquaintance, or consider the viability of a political candidate, or interview someone for a job, we assess their strengths and weaknesses. We “take the measure” of their character and abilities, so to speak. We attempt to quantify their attributes, to judge how worthy they are of our trust or support and to keep our expectations realistic.
We also take the measure of self and others for the sake of comparison. Questions like, “Am I smart?” or “Am I rich?” or “Am I moral?” are answered with, “Relative to whom?” We choose our human yardsticks with care, often assuring ourselves that we will measure favorably by surrounding ourselves with people whose own shortcomings make us stand tall by comparison. We tell ourselves that compared to X, we are indeed quite smart, rich, or moral. But unless our measure of comparison is smarter, richer, and more moral than we are, we will preserve the myth of our own ascendancy. We will believe ourselves to be without rival. And that’s where a measureless God begins to upend our sense of personal awesomeness.
Our Immeasurable, Measuring God
To the human mind, preoccupied with quantifying creation and its inhabitants, seeking control by measurement and validation by comparison, the Godhead presents a conundrum. The God of the Bible is infinite—immeasurable, unquantifiable, uncontainable, unbound, utterly without limit. We cannot take the full measure of him no matter how hard we may try. We cannot confine him to a physical or mental boundary. We cannot control him, and we can never stack up favorably beside him. Job’s companion Zophar expresses our dilemma:
Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth
and broader than the sea. (Job 11:7–9)
David praises the infinitude of God’s greatness:
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable. (Ps. 145:3)
Solomon, too, acknowledges the limitlessness of God:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
Paradoxically, he who is immeasurable is himself the measure of all things. Note this beautiful contrast in Isaiah 40:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel? (Isa. 40:12–13)
Put succinctly, who has measured everything? God has. Who has measured God? No one.
In striking paradox, God immeasurable concerns himself with measurements for arks and tabernacles, temples and cities. God unbound sets boundaries for oceans. He catalogs hairs on heads. He numbers stars and grains of sand. Our limitless God specifies the length of our limbs and the circumference of our crania. He measures our very days in handbreadths, lovingly and with intent. And all that he measures is perfect in measurement. All that he binds is perfectly boundaried. Yet he himself is infinitely detailed—limitless, measureless, unbounded. — Jen Wilkin, None like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).
We have just released a new Bible Study on the topic None Like Him.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.