Fathoming the Unfathomable
Psalm 36:1-12

Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens;
?     your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
?     your justice like the ocean depths.

Psalm 36:5-6

I’ve said “God is great” several thousand times in my life. This is true, not only because people in my line of work tend to say things like that, but also because, when I was a boy, my family repeated this line when we said grace before dinner: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food. Amen.”

We can say “God is great” until we’re blue in the face, yet the reality of which we speak eludes our comprehension. God’s greatness exceeds our capacity even to begin to understand it. It’s a little like the brightness of the sun. I know the sun is very bright. But I can’t even begin to look at the sun because its luminescence far exceeds the limitations of my sight.

When David sought to celebrate the greatness of God, he also looked to nature for analogies that might helps us to begin to grasp that which is beyond our reach. “Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths” (36:5-6a). Each of these natural images conveys the immensity of God. Each tries to paint a picture of God’s limitless character. Of course, the reality far exceeds the analogy. God’s love, faithfulness, righteous, and justice are far greater than any natural object or expanse. Nevertheless, the awesome magnitude of the sky and clouds, of mountains and oceans, helps us to begin to fathom the unfathomable.

Perhaps, as you read this, you are in a place of sublime physical beauty. You can look around right now and let your mind consider the greatness of God. More likely, however, you are sitting in your den or office, perhaps even riding on the subway or eating your breakfast. You might want to stop and remember places you have been that suggest something of God’s own vastness. I am thinking of a raft trip my family and I took on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. As the sun set behind the towering Teton peaks, rays of brilliant light shone streaked across the sky. I was astounded by the immensity and beauty of God’s creation. Yet God’s greatness and glory far exceeds even this.


QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What are some of the most awe-inspiring natural scenes you have ever witnessed? As you think about them, what do they suggest to you about God’s greatness? In what ways has nature helped you to envision the vastness of God’s love, faithfulness, justice, and righteousness?


There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
‘Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.


(Lyrics from “There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” by Frederick W. Faber, 1854. I used verses 1, 4, 5, and 10 out of 12 total.)

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