Capturing God In a Box

When I was a high school science teacher, I liked to begin each new year with an activity.

On the first day of school, when many other teachers were going over classroom rules, I would do something to get students out of their seats, working with their lab partners, thinking and moving.

Sometimes we erected towers made from index cards. On occasion, we blew giant bubbles on the lab tables using dish soap, water, and glycerine. At times we built and launched paper airplanes.

My favorite year-beginning activity, however, was the Egg Drop.

Pairs of students were given 10 sheets of paper and a meter of masking tape. Their objective was to design and build an egg catcher to protect a raw egg from breaking when dropped from the ceiling to the floor.

It was the perfect way to introduce the class. Students got used to working with their lab partners and thinking for themselves. They made a plan, carried it out, and analyzed how well it worked after completion.

That’s the scientific method in a nutshell.

Maybe best of all, they learned that sometimes plans don’t always work out, and that’s OK. When plans don’t work out, we clean up the mess, devise a Plan B, and move on.

And we had fun.

I had only two classroom rules anyway – be honest and be considerate. Those were the biggies. They covered most potentially bad behaviors. I reasoned by the time students were teenagers, they knew right from wrong. They just sometimes needed reminders. That was my job.

There is a story told in Genesis about Jacob wrestling with God. It was night, Jacob was alone, and he wrestled with God “until daybreak“. God, seeing he could not overpower Jacob, touched his hip. This left Jacob with a permanent limp, and God subsequently escaped.

I wrestle with God myself at times.

I try to figure Him out, to put Him in a nice, convenient box. I would gladly suffer a limp, I think, if only I could solve the puzzle of God.

What I find each time I try is that God is bigger than any box I can build. His love is wilder, more fierce and tenacious than I could ever imagine. He escapes my most sincere attempts of apprehension.

We humans tend to want to limit God by capturing His essence with rules. 

In the Old Testament, there were over 600 rules set forth. Rules about offerings, rules about which foods were considered clean and unclean, and rules about dealing with disease were issued. There were sexual taboos, rules about burning incense, working on the Sabbath (punishable by death), charging interest on loans, trimming your beard, getting a tattoo (a no-no), and rules about how slaves should be treated.

There were rules about cursing your parents (God was against it), consulting a psychic, marrying both a woman and her daughter, lying about being a virgin, and rules about ignoring the rules (against, against, against, against).

If only we could follow all of these rules, it was thought, we would be closer to God. We could wrestle with God and finally pin him down.

If I could follow all of them, I might be able to trap God in a box of rules, but I doubt it.  

I doubt whether God would allow himself to be trapped, wrestled to the ground, bound by 600 rules.

Jesus came to tell us to follow two rules, but they are important ones. Love God and love others. Those are the biggies, he said. Focus on them. Remember them.

Jesus gave us the freedom to live our lives without worrying about hundreds of legalities. Instead, He said, we must do the hard work of giving out love every day, all day. To everyone. Just like God does.

Jesus tells us not to try to fence God in, not to imagine Him smaller than He is.

He tells us to imagine a God of unlimited grace and forgiveness.

It is literally a new way to live.

And it is much, much more difficult than following 600 rules.

But by this time, we know right from wrong. We just sometimes need reminders.

 

You can find the places I link up here.

 

 

90 comments

  1. When I was still trying to figure out if I was Christian I decided to read the Bible beginning to end. I only made it through Leviticus, all the laws listed made me sure the Bible wasn’t for me. My favorite law was that a man shouldn’t lie with a piece of wood as though it was a woman. It made me wonder if that was a big problem back then.

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    • I was stopped in Leviticus several times before making it all the way through. It DOES get better! 🙂 Hmmm…I am going to have to look that “piece of wood” thing up. I must have missed that one! 🙂 Ouch!!!!

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      • I tried to look it up on the internet before leaving this comment. Couldn’t find anything. It’s been 25 years since I read that. Maybe I made it up. I reference it all the time, hope I’m not wrong.

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  2. In Psalm 24 It speaks of a generation of God seekers, of God wrestlers like Jacob. Jacob the cheat became Israel, God prevails. How amazing is it that the God Who created the universe and could vaporize us with one breath let’s us, yes even welcomes us, to wrestle with Him-to try to figure Him out and comprehend Him.

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  3. powerful. It says so much about you that you started teaching, or better yet leading to knowledge, your students from day one. I imagine they loved you

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  4. I bet you were a favourite teacher. I talk to God all the time, I have grown up with Him being my Dad, (I have never gone without what I needed) as well, my Dad, not so great & that’s putting it lightly. I was taught to always, always put yourself in the other persons shoes, Never judge, which gives you room to love unconditionally but with boundaries a very hard thing to balance. I know you cant have a relationship with someone you don’t talk to. So when I’ve had enough I’ll yell & argue with God, I’ll thank Him always, I have times when I chatter away as if you would your best friend. Awesome blog, have a wonderful week ahead my friend.

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    • Thank you! I hope my students enjoyed my class. I’m sorry your Dad wasn’t there for you but glad you must have realized that God is always there for you. Learning to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes is one of the most important lessons we can learn. I love hearing about your conversations with God. They sound like the best form of communication. You have a great week too! 🙂

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  5. Thanks for the reminder to let my focus and actions be all about expressing God’s love. When I do that, I shine God’s light and make the world a much better place! Also, I love hearing how you made education come to life for your students! You were an amazing teacher, my friend!

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  6. In my husband’s journals from his travels as a young man, he referred to some of the grander cathedrals of Europe as “god boxes” — which I found rather snarky, but even Chartes or Notre Dame could be seen as a futile effort to encase the divine.

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  7. I’m not at all religious but have always thought the ‘treat others as we wish ourselves to be treated. (Though I know there’s an ‘unto’ somewhere!) And I think that captures it all for me. Show others the respect, love, tolerance (etc) that we expect / would like others to show us.

    I’m intrigued about the best ‘model’ for the egg catcher by the way!

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    • I think that captures a lot of the whole “loving others” rule. If only everyone would follow that rule! The best model for the egg catcher was one that “expanded the moment of impact”. In other words, a lot of little impacts, rather than one big splat. Students who tore up their paper into confetti for cushioning usually had a good outcome.

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  8. Hi Laurie – I often think that if the world could love God and love each other, there’d be very little to complain about. Think of all the gratitude, consideration, kindness, and care that would be flowing throughout the world – amazing to think of and sad to not have it. Loved your egg experiment too – your students would have loved it.

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  9. a beautiful post my friend. I once asked an orthodox rabbi what was the rules for Gentiles – 10 commandments maybe? He said no not really. That in Genesis in the garden of Eden God told man to accept where God placed him. It is a rule for everyone to find satisfaction in where you are placed – then you are not envious, are not telling lies, coveting , murdering, etc. I knew then that is a really hard thing to do. Accept who you are and where you are. I don’t think it means you can’t try to be better and work hard for things. #MMBC

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  10. Be honest and be considerate. What a perfect takeaway from your high school science class. I’ll admit that my egg drop experiment went splat and that I’m jealous that you got to build towers made from index cards. We didn’t do that and I think I could excel at that.

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  11. First, Laurie, I’d have loved to have been in your class. Second, ‘be honest and be considerate’–words to live by! It strikes me that, in our home, we lack a clear and defined guideline like this. I think I take it for granted that my kids will distill their values from my ‘adult voice from Charlie Brown’ narrating. Not likely. This gives me much food for thought. (As always!) Thank you.

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    • I think I always took it for granted that my own children would be honest and considerate too. I don’t remember ever specifically spelling out my expectations to them when they were young. I used to joke to my students at school “Do I just sound like Charlie brown’s mother to you?” if I thought they were tuning me out! 🙂

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  12. Amen. So well said, Laurie. No grave could hold Him, no box would ever be possible to contain Him. Our God is alive and powerful, majestic and wonderful. Even and especially in those wrestling times that we all encounter.

    Sometimes there are no words. I’m thankful that His love enables us to love others well. That, in itself, is a miracle indeed …

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  13. Interesting blog, Laurie. Being Jewish, I don’t view Jesus as God, just another nutty Jew! But I absolutely believe that if more of us lived by the golden rule, the world would be a better place.

    I also think those 600 rules may have *mostly* been appropriate to those times, but times change.

    Lastly, if I’d had you as a science teacher I might’ve liked science more!

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  14. Our school used to host an annual egg drop for all 4th grade students and we dropped our eggs from a lift off the roof (well, one teacher went up with them all and announced who’s he was dropping). I had such fond memories of that day that I recreated the experiment a couple years ago at our house with a bunch of our homeschooling friends– and my boys still talk about that day with fondness!

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  15. I love the story of Jacob, and it is my model for wrestling with faith and the Bible. Every week my prayer before preaching includes a prayer to be with us as we wrestle and reflect on the passage. Wonderful post to and I appreciate your responses to folks who comment. Blessings, Michele P.S. I seldom do lectionary, and my focus this coming Sunday is on the story of Jacob and Essau, Wave length

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  16. Laurie, I so appreciated this post as I recently read the story myself. I am so grateful God invites us to bring our doubts, our wrestling, to Him and that He brings us through. We emerge stronger and more grounded in our faith than before. Wonderful post!

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    • Thank you, Joanne. There is a quote from Madeline L’Engle that I like: Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself. I believe this with my whole heart.

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  17. Our minister is doing a series on the Beatitudes right now. He spoke at great length, last weekend, of the one that says “Blessed are those who show mercy.” And he took a tangent and referenced the “do onto others” passage, and “bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.” Much easier said than done in this day and age! Another thought-provoking post 😉 Thanks, Laurie!!

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  18. I’m not great at ‘outside the box’ but when I talk to God, He helps me do that, especially with thought about Him. It’s an amazing thing to me how He isn’t what I was taught He was–He’s so much more!!

    It’s so great to see your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week!

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  19. What an awesome teacher you are and how good is that to have those two rules. Splendid! I find a word sometimes just works for me. Right now it’s “forgiveness” and it’s embedded into a song towards the end of Hamilton the Musical. When I hear it, I am reminded of the transformative nature of forgiveness.

    Thank you for linking up this week for #lifethisweek. Great to see you and your blog here! Next week it’s about #sharingoursnaps and that’s an optional prompt. Join in each week for a friendly connection in a great community on-line. I am very grateful to you all. Denyse.

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    • Thank you, Denyse. I loved teaching. “Forgiveness” is a wonderful word to meditate on. you are so right – it IS transformative. Not being able to forgive poisons at least two people. Thank you for hosting. See you next week!

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  20. I think God could have overpowered Jacob–maybe causing the limp was a lesser stoppage than another that could have been more damaging to Jacob. I’m glad God invites us to ponder him and doesn’t mind questions–even if we won’t have all the answers to heaven.

    One former pastor once said that if we loved God and others like we should, we wouldn’t need all those applications in the law. But sometimes we need it spelled out.

    When my husband and I worked with a children’s ministry for a few years, one of our basic rules was “keep your hands to yourself.” That covered poking, pulling, tickling, shoving, etc., etc. I love the overarching rules/principles of being honest and considerate. They’re not only easier to remember, but they cause students to think and process their actions.

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  21. Hi Laurie, I love the egg experiment – such a great ice breaker and lots of lessons in there too! Like Deb, I too am of the mind of treat others as you would like to be treated and the world will be a better place. Kindness, compassion & love always win. xo

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  22. Aw, Laurie … I wish my girls could have had you as a science teacher. What a great way to start off the year. I so appreciate Jacob … the guy gets a bad rap for some good reasons, but his relationship with God was one to emulate, I think. And yes … love God/love others sounds simple, but it’s definitely not easy! Great post!

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    • Thank you, Lois. I wish I could have taught your daughters. I agree with you about Jacob. He was imperfect (we all are) but he did have an exemplary relationship with God.

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  23. Reminds me of what my highschool chemistry teacher used to say..
    you can’t put God in a test tube
    he was a man of science and still he allowed that some things were beyond comprehension and that was OK too
    Thank you for this
    ~B

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