If you have never left a child behind, then you are a better parent than me. Our third son, Elliot, was about 11 when I took him to a basketball game in which his brother Joel was playing. My role was to corral and coach a dozen junior-high guys, with Elliot tagging along. Our guys lost by one when Joel’s 15-footer at the buzzer clunked off the rim; which is when he melted into a puddle of self-blaming disappointment. Instantly, his cheering coach turned into consoling dad.
Comforting my distraught son proved a little more attention-demanding than first anticipated. But eventually, having restored Joel’s emotional equilibrium, I collected equipment, herded thirteen (or so I thought) young guys to the van, and hopped in to drive home. Equipment manager, driver of thirteen, coach of twelve, dad of two, comforter of one.
About two miles homeward somebody yelled, “Hey! Where’s Elliot?” Horrified at my oversight, I screeched to a halt, u-turned on the spot, and exceeded the speed limit back to find my 11-year-old standing with a custodian outside an otherwise abandoned and darkened school building, where he tearfully awaited the return of his derelict dad.
Shame spasms still seize when I think of my failure. Apologies felt lame then and still do, now. I wondered if my kid would be scarred for life. How could I have done that? What kind of parental misfit am I? Will he ever really forgive me?
Dangling Strings of Incompetence
Elliot did forgive me and there seem to be no lingering effects. He’s had a gracious heart to realize that though I love him much, I am only human. You see, for all my good efforts, I really am a mass of finiteness; nothing but a walking embodiment of limitations; a frail child of the dust. My attention span, strength, presence, and love are all dangling strings of incompetence; graces and abilities never quite long enough or strong enough to tie the various needs and responsibilities of my life securely in place.
I can go so far, but no farther. I can do so much, but no more. I can do one thing now, but not two things at once. I can be here in the moment, but not there. I can think thoughts sequentially, but not simultaneously. I can care for one son, but—so it would seem—only to the neglect of the other.
Finiteness is the essence of creature-hood. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…” (Isaiah 40:6-7). That’s us. Flowers are nice, but they’re fragile. Let the sun beat on them for a couple minutes and add in a scorching wind, and they’re history. That’s me. My competence is a frail fading flower. Turn up the heat and throw in a little unexpected drama—and a son gets left behind.
This is no less true of you than me. Before we are anything else, we are all creatures, and creatures are by definition dependent, inadequate, needy. Such creature consciousness is healthy since it leads to Creator consciousness. Felt incompetence dispels “I can handle this”, and compels “O Lord, help!”
The Omni-Competent God
And it is good to know that he can and does help. To build faith in him, consider with me a wonderful set of terms, each prefixed with omni (which means all or every). We call God omnipotent, since he is all-powerful. We say he’s omnipresent since he is present everywhere all the time. And we say that he is omniscient because he knows all things in the past, in the present, and in the future; and all at once. When these three omni-words converge in one person we may safely conclude that that one is also omni-competent. Being all powerful plus everywhere present plus all knowing makes one all-competent.And this One is God. He has all it takes to do all things perfectly well.
God Over All Limitations
Another way to express this is to say that God transcends all limitations. He is unbounded in his existence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers the question, “Who is God?” with this fine response: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
Those three words: infinite, eternal and unchangeable, declare that God’s being is without limits. He cannot be confined to space, restricted to time, or diminished by mortality. In Paul’s stirring words, God is “…the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God [to whom] be honor and glory forever and ever. Indeed, he is “the blessed and only sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality… To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15, 16). This is the limitless God, the one who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). This is the God that Isaiah loved to preach.
God Is Unlimited by Ignorance
“Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding…his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:13-14).
God is omniscient. His knowledge is unlimited. Past events, present circumstances, future certainties and even possibilities, and every single need and sorrow of his people in between, are known completely to him. You cannot teach God anything because he already knows everything (Isaiah 40:13-14). “His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28; Romans 11:33-34). We simply cannot fathom the depths of what God knows. Incomprehensible as this is to us, nothing is incomprehensible to God.
We need never worry that “our way is hidden from the Lord” (Isaiah 40:27-28) because nothing can be unknown or unnoticed by the One who knows all. Nothing can happen behind God’s back in God’s universe. He sees everything every moment everywhere—even before it happens (Isaiah 44:6-8).
How very different God is from us. We don’t really know much of anything. The past is lost in a mist of forgetfulness. The present is blurred by a fog of faulty and inadequate information. The future is a complete blank. Yet the past, present, and future are all alike to him; fully and perfectly clear. In this there is comforting hope. God is never surprised, never disappointed, never uncertain, never taken off guard, never perplexed, never caught between good intentions and unexpected complications. And he is for us.
God Is Unlimited by Weakness
Isaiah also preaches the unlimited power of God. God “comes with might” (Isaiah 40:10). Because of “the greatness of his might”, and since he is “strong in power”, stars stay their course (Isaiah 40:26). There are no power naps in heaven since God never needs a rest (Isaiah 40:28). He does not grow weary or tired because his strength has no limits, no boundaries, no measure. Isaiah’s point is that the God, whose strength powers the massive gravitational forces that keep galaxies in their place (without him ever getting fatigued), can surely come to our aid.
“The LORD’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1). There is no danger or burden or fear or enemy or temptation in all the cosmos that can match the power of the One who made the cosmos. He is the Lord God Almighty who is surely all we need. Whether to heal us of our hurts, or sustain us through our weakness, or protect us from hell’s worst, he will be our enough.
God Is Unlimited by Time
In order for Isaiah’s God to be of any use for us in the 21st century, he has to be eternal and unchanging; unlimited by time. Otherwise what good is he? All the omnipotence and omniscience in the world doesn’t help me now if God was mortal and passed away a few centuries ago. He might have been there for Isaiah but if he’s not here for me, of what value is that?
It matters that the Lord is the “everlasting God” (Isaiah 40:28) and that he “inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). He is the everlasting God—without beginning or end—because of his unchanging and incorruptible glory. He is not diminished by time or mortality like us. He is the ageless Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9); always alive but never old.
All that God has ever been, he now is; and all that he now is, he will always be. Were this not so, all hope would yield to despair. Let us then receive the comfort that Isaiah preaches (Isaiah 40:1-2); and know that because God is the same as he has always been, his comfort will be too. Thomas Chisolm’s hymn is true:
“Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.”
And it is good that it is so. Or else Elliot would never have survived life with his incompetent dad; and none of us would have a chance of surviving 2020; the year that none of us will ever forget.