A preschool student in our group recently asked what he didn’t realize was a potentially profound question… “Do angels wear clothes?” He was probably inquiring with regard to drawing a picture, and I didn’t want to ignore his curiosity. My response was that when angels are sent to earth, they have clothes to talk to people; but when they are in Heaven they might not need clothes. I wanted to make sure this young boy was not inspired to abandon clothing in order to imitate angels…but it did make me think a bit. The Bible gives some limited descriptions of angels, but in all actuality they are not beings subject to mortal bodies or trappings. The same is of course true of God. Yet sometimes we do try to impose earthly attributes on our Heavenly master and creator. We want Him to fit our mold and expectation, and in doing so we often neglect the awe and wonder of God. Our little human brains just cannot comprehend or take in all that He is, but that is part of the beauty.
With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him? -Isaiah 40:18
Surely we want to know and understand God. Kids are the same, especially when they hear us begin to describe Him and tell His stories. Children want a tangible image, or at least a description they can wrap their heads around. So we try to put God in a box. We shrink Him down to flannel graph size and make Him safe. He becomes a buddy, or perhaps a magic genie or an indulgent grandfather. In so doing, we essentially create an idol. We miss out on the element of worship that defines the mystery of God.
To be sure, we can know God through the person of Jesus, who came to earth in representation of His Father.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15; 19-20
Jesus is the answer to our questions in many regards, and is the one image to which we can accurately compare God. Yet there is still an element of God’s power and holiness that we cannot possibly fathom. In the Old Testament, there is an enormous degree of worship and reverence given to God. Consider the reaction of Moses when he comes upon the burning bush:
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:5-6
Later, Moses demands to see God’s glory, and is treated to a tiny glimpse. But the actual being of God is too much for any man to bear:
But,” he (God) said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” -Exodus 33:20-23
The terrifying holiness element is echoed later. For example, in Deuteronomy:
For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? -Deuteronomy 5:26
Or we see the reaction of the prophet Isaiah after entering into God’s presence:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” -Isaiah 6:5
Obviously, we do not want children to be afraid of God or get the impression that He is an unapproachable and punishing figure. But true worship centers on love, not fear. True respect for God’s nature means that we love Him and try to grasp ever more of who He is, but that we also recognize there are aspects too great for our understanding. Very few people reading detective novels want the ending details to be divulged after only reading the first chapter. The beauty is in the glorious mystery of what is unknown.
Our perception of God must be consistent with who He is, and cannot be conformed to what seems safe or what is convenient for us. When we describe God for our students, there is a great deal we can discuss, but there are also questions where the answer might very well be “I don’t know.” And that is okay. The history teacher can accept and admit that he does not know Abraham Lincoln’s underwear size (or if he even wore underwear!). The Sunday school teacher can urge study and prayer, but also allow for a chunk of unknowns. This is not detrimental. We do a disservice when we paint a picture of a God who wears a robe, sits on a cloud, and takes a passive and impotent backseat to life. But we instill admiration and respect when we can somehow impart just a fraction of God’s utter amazing holiness. Only then can we say as did Job,
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. -Job 42:2-3