"God has a very big body": Discuss

I was thinking yesterday about Old Testament passages that picture God as a giant person. It was common in the ancient Near East to picture gods as having giant proportions. The OT did likewise:

1. There is Isaiah's vision in the temple in which the skirt of Yhwh's robe fills the temple (Isa 6:1). That is a big robe!

2. There is the fact that the throne of God in the temple is over 5.3m square (1 Kgs 6:23–28). That is a big seat!

3. There is the story of when God passed by Moses and hid him in the cleft of a rock. As he passed by he shielded Moses with his hand (Exod 33:21–23). This seems to be a very big hand.

4. There are passages like Psalm 24:7–10
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
Here the large temple gates need to have the tops removed because while they are big God is so big that he cannot fit through them.

All this is quite strange to me because I never think of God as having any size at all. God is spirit. So what to do with such images? I don't think that we can read them to suggest that God literally has a giant body—I am not aware of anyone in the Christian tradition that does this.

The Bible often speaks of God's "face", "eyes", "ears", "hands", "arm", "hand", "back", etc.

I suppose that we must take such images to be instances of divine "accommodation" to human understanding. They communicate that God can be related to. He is, in some ways, like us. We are in his image (Gen 1:26). Yet he is also very much not like us. His eyes see all, his ears hear all, his arm is not too short to save, when he stretches out his hand no one can resist him. He is giant.

But it is still a tad odd (though I am sure it was not odd to ancient minds).

What do we do with the idea that God has a body? Is there any sense in which this is more than metaphor? It is hard to think so but I would be interested to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise.


Mike Gantt said…
I had always thought of it as merely metaphorical, but at your question immediately wondered if it was, in some indirect way, prophetic of the Incarnation.
Terry Wright said…
I don't think that we can read them to suggest that God literally has a giant body — I am not aware of anyone in the Christian tradition that does this.

How about the song My God is so big, so strong and so mighty? ;)

More seriously, I think in either Text and Truth or Text, Church and World, Francis Watson discusses the physicality of the image of God in Genesis 1. I don't remember what he says (it's been almost a decade since I read his stuff), but you could try looking there.
Anonymous said…
I sneezed while reading this and, for a second, thought that all the little water drops on your page graphics were little sneezum drops on my screen.

I indulge in thinking of God as a giant sometimes. To me, it's a good image. I've pictured Him laying down across the city, opening my front door, and propping His head up on His hands & communing with me like that.

I picture Him a lot of ways, fueling His person with my imagination. I dunno. I hope it's not a bad idea...
Anonymous said…
First time poster so...um...hi. I have always for the most part pictured God to be pure consciousness. A mind without a body.

However, I was quite surprised that when I shared this view with some of my fellow Christian friends they found the idea uneasy. Is such a view not the norm? I guess I just can't picture God any other way but that,since the whole man in the clouds with a white beard thing always seemed to be the way some atheist would try to depict God in attempt to set up straw men to knock him down.
John Lyons said…
You could read some Stephen Moore; his book "God's Gym" or an article called, I think, something like "Yahweh's Gigantic Body". I remembering him presenting it in Sheffield, and as part of it he had worked out God's weight based on his calorific intake through his eating of sacrifices. Something like 32000 tons. Very interesting and very funny at the same time - Stephen at his best.
"Nick" said…
I would suggest you find a copy of "Images of the Spirit" by Merideth Kline. A fascinating unpacking of God's "image" and the the Hebrew descriptions in the OT. I think you can find it on Amazon.
God manifested Himself corporeally in order to facilitate his theophanies. These appearances of corporeality were for the benefit of humans.

If we allow that heavenly (angels, the cherubim and seraphim) are corporeal creatures and not just spirits, then might not God manifest Himself to them in an heavenly body?

Perhaps God generally manifests His heavenly glory in some form of body. Such a corporeal existence would facilitate relations with His creations.
TN said…
The Sunday School teacher asked the little girl what she was drawing.

"I'm drawing God", she said.

"But no one knows what God is like" said the teacher.

The little girl replied: "They will in a minute."
James Goetz said…
Theophanies are sometimes invisible and other times include a visible body, which I suppose has always been a temporary body. I also suppose that the Isa 6:1 theophany was a hyper-dimensional body.
Michael Smith said…
I think, myself included, that we tend to forget that the infinite triune God of the universe became a human being in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. We get so caught up in trying to maintain the distinction between natures that we fall into forgetting that God did become a human being in the Person of the Son and in our minds tear asunder his Person. The great theologians Karl Barth and T.F. Torrance dealt with this I think. By the way, I am not accusing Dr. Parry of this. So, my answer is yes God has a body in the God-Man the Son. The size I think is only an issue because we are dealing with pre-incarnate, old testament, anthropormorphic language. But, I couldn't imagine that in our Lord's continuing incarnation that His physical body is any different in size than when He walked on the Earth. But, there is also the issue of human language capturing the reality of the incarnation and the enormity of God's spiritual Body, the Church. By the way, thank you Dr. Parry for all your thought provoking posts. You are one of my favorite theologians.
James Goetz said…
I'll also add that not even angels can perceive God apart from the revelation of a theophany.
James Goetz said…
I see that I didn't clearly answer the question of whether God has a body.

God is originally dimensionless and without a body, and God created all dimensions so finite creatures would have a place to inhabit. Also, God genuinely manifests in theophanies for the purpose of relating to angels and humans because no angel or human or could perceive God apart from the revelation of a theophany.

For example, in the case of the Isaiah 6 vision, God manifested in a real spiritual, hyper-dimensional body and was visible to both the seraphim and Isaiah, and God may have been perpetually visible to the seraphim and only temporarily visible to Isaiah. Additionally, in the context of the incarnation, God manifested in a real human body.

So my answer is both yes and no. God is essentially bodiless but reveals himself in theophanies with real but temporary bodies.

I wonder about the inverse. Does anybody here propose that God isn't originally bodiless?
Michael Smith said…
Could you say that the triune God in time/space history uniting himself with humanity by becoming a human being in the person of the Son Jesus Christ is the final and full Theophany that all the others prior pointed to? By the way, I enjoy your site.
Wow, your thoughts are on the lines I was suggesting, James.
Michael, I think I would agree.
If anybody is interested, the Dakes' Annotated reference Bible, by Finis Dakes argues that each member of the Trinity has a body and that when Jesus returns, He will be accompanied by the Father in bodily form.

It's difficult to distinguish Dakes view of the Trinity from Tritheism in places.

The Dake's Bible is still popular in some charismatic and Pentecostal circles. I like to keep my copy handy and find it helpful in places.
James Goetz said…
Hi Michael,

Thank you.

I sympathize with what you're saying. But I believe that all sensible manifestations of God are theophanies while the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred after the ascension. So the incarnation wasn't the final theophany. I also consider that the second advent of Christ will be a greater theophany than the first advent, not that there would be any difference in the identity of Christ. I additionally suppose that in heaven we'll forever see God more clearly.
James Goetz said…
Hi Celestial,

I'm glad that we've points of agreement. I want to clarify that I hold that all created spirits have a spiritual body that's tangent to our observed space dimensions. All created spirits have a hyper-dimensional body. I hold that no created spiritual substance is dimensionless while God is originally dimensionless.
James Goetz said…
I need to revise my last post:

Hi Celestial,

I'm glad that we've points of agreement. I want to clarify that I hold that all created spirits have a hyper-dimensional spiritual body. I hold that no created spiritual substance is dimensionless while God is originally dimensionless.

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