1 May 2019
As a child, I grew up singing the grand hymn “Immortal, Invisible” by Walter C. Smith (1824-1908). Here’s how the first couple of stanzas go…
- Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
- Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
How do you react to this kind of praise lyrics for God? …Perhaps it’s an immense and glorious vision of God? But somewhere along the line, I got the idea such hymns were guilty of presenting God in impersonal terms. To steal an adjective from the hymn itself, perhaps all this made God sound like he was ‘inaccessible’. Indeed, as a young theologian, I picked up the notion that this hymnody owed more to the abstractions of ancient Greek philosophy than to biblical thinking.
When you go to Bible college, you learn terms to describe God’s attributes like omnipotence, impassibility and immutability. I worked through such ideas, but a fair bit seemed too complex for the ordinary Christian person. And making God distant or hard to understand is surely a sin in an era that stresses personal relationships.
Then one day, I noted that the opening line of the hymn came straight from the Bible. Just after describing how the saving mission of Jesus Christ displays his unlimited patience, 1 Timothy 1:17 says this:
”Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [KJV]
Suddenly I realised the hymn-writer was far more in touch with the Bible after all! Indeed, this was confirmed a bit later, as 1 Timothy 6:15-16 describes God as,
“the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” [NIVUK]
So God is not just a slightly older mate we can casually chat to over the back fence!
And that’s why I’m urging you to attend our church conference on May 18, when Andrew Moody restores a much bigger vision of God, and introduces us to some of these daunting attributes of God. He’ll also help us wonder anew at how completely stuck we’d be without Jesus, if we were trying to grapple just on our own with God’s immensity, his transcendence, and his holiness.