Does God exaggerate?

Exaggerated Fruit - This Is How Watermelon Gro...

Exaggerated Fruit – This Is How Watermelon Grows in California – Mitchell, SF – 1909 (Photo credit: Emma Paperclip)

Does God exaggerate? I mean, I’m not sure it’s even possible. One online dictionary defines exaggerate as “To magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately . . . to increase or enlarge abnormally” (dictionary.com).

When God promised the older-than-dirt Abraham that the Almighty would give him descendants that numbered as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17), was he stretching the truth just a little to entice Abraham to do the right thing? I’ve been neither bored enough or sufficiently ambitious to count the sand on the beach, but there must be billions of grains. Same with the stars. But neither could I count the descendants of Abraham, even if I wanted to. Then there’s the thought that maybe God wasn’t just speaking of physical offspring, but that Abraham’s faith in God made him, in a way, the father of our faith. I’m sure those descendants have reached into the billions over the centuries. Since I can’t begin to verify God’s fulfillment of this crazy promise, I’ll move on to another.

There’s Jesus’ promise to the disciples in John 14:12-14

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes   in me will do the works I have been doing,   and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask   in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (NIV)

Really? Can we really do things that are more amazing than raising the dead, feeding thousands with only a little boy’s lunch, and taking a stroll on the lake during some pretty extreme weather? Will Jesus really do whatever we ask if we do it in his name? How about the part in Scripture where Jesus says that we can move mountains if we had even a little faith? It’s enough to make a person think that Jesus says these things up front to get us excited about doing his work; that he stretches the truth a little to attract us to his way of life.

But, my God never lies. If you believe this about the God you serve, than you must see that he cannot exaggerate. While we struggle to accurately reveal him with our lives, it is impossible for God to misrepresent himself. Why would an Almighty God need to exaggerate anyway? It’s not as if he couldn’t do what He says. It’s impossible for an omnipotent God to overstate or misrepresent himself disproportionately. So maybe it’s in our understanding of what he’s saying.

Our understanding of what is “greater” may be different from Jesus’. Peter, the guy who failed Jesus by disowning him three times on the day our Savior was crucified, stood up a few weeks later and gave a sermon that resulted in 3,000 people being saved (Acts 2). The Bible doesn’t record that Jesus ever had that much success in one day! That could give insight on what “greater” means to our Lord. This world may be thrilled by mountain relocations and weather charmers, but those things aren’t even in the same league as displaying the heart of God to people who don’t know him. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure who I’d rather impress.

God isn’t a false advertiser. If you have the faith of Abraham, you’ll have life to the fullest extent through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said it, and he wouldn’t lie to you . . .

. . . not in a billion years.

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10 thoughts on “Does God exaggerate?

  1. From a God perspective I agree, but we are not God nor gods so we view things from a human view point. From a human view point it is impossible that a man and woman long past having children should do so, that a man’s two sons should go on to produce two nations both equally numerous. That a flood would come which wipe out all creation save one family and that from that family and the creatures in an ark all creation should be recreated. There is much more, but that is sufficient to make the point. God said it would be so, and it was, we would view it as impossible yet it happened, if we said it it would be an exaggeration, but He said it and just as he spoke and the world was created so in all that he says. It is a difficult concept, but if we believe in God then we must accept that nothing He says or promises is beyond Him.

  2. Let’s see: if by “Stars in the Sky” God meant visible stars humans could see, that’s about 6,000 (including both hemispheres). If He meant in the Observable Universe, that’s between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion, or well over the whole population of Earth’s history times for each person in the whole population of Earth’s history. The sand estimates run around seven or eight quintillion for all the shores on the planet, which is larger than the human population by the same style of ridiculousness.

    Well, there’s poetic license, right? Take it too far that way and you might think the “four corners of the Earth” point to a serious discrepancy with basic geographical observations. But of course that’s just silly.

    I guess that’s a problem for Biblical Literalism. It’s the view that if you start accepting that some of the passages of the Bible are poetic and metaphorical, you might not know when to stop? (You might even end up thinking something crazy like the book of Revelation was a thinly veiled metaphor for Rome’s domination of the first century AD and prediction of its demise, along with a few jabs at competing would-be prophets and a stance in favor of a more Jewish flavor of Christianity vs one more based on the Gentiles claiming to be a better sort of “God’s Chosen People”)

    • The first time God made the promsie (Gen. 15:5) “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 22:17 would naturally refer to that. I believe God went way beyond 6,000. Hosea 1:10 gives insight to the sand (which applies to the stars as well) “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted.” It looks to me like God’s point to Abraham was that his descendants would be too numerous for the old boy to count. He shouldn’t feel bad, though. We can’t even count the stars or the sand today with all our technological advances. All the numbers you gave were estimates (extremely wide ranged at well)!

      The Hosea passage corrects my viewpoint on the Abraham thing a bit. God’s emphasis was to give Abraham an idea of the number of offspring from Abraham’s perspective, not that God would have one star for every Israelite. I learn a lot due to comments on this blog! But what I haven’t erred on is my viewpoint of God’s sovereignty.

      There is wonderful poetry in the Bible. God uses metaphor and lingo of the day as well so that people could understand. When the Bible refers to the “four corners of the earth,” God is communicating to people with idioms understood by the people of that day. That’s found in Isaiah, and later in that book the world is referred to as “round”. Even then the Bible isn’t given credit for accuracy because it is claimed that there were many who believed the world was round back then. Just can’t win.

      My point in the blog is more about Christians and our take on God’s promises. We say he is omnipotent, yet when fall short in realizing what Jesus said in John 14 because we treat it like an exaggeration. I’m suggesting that the discussion about what parts of the Bible are literal need to stop at God’s promises. If we really acted like they are true, this world would be a lot different.

      • The issue isn’t whether the bible is literal or figurative. Everyone agrees that it is both. The issue is where it is physically literal and where it is something more…and making sure the “something more” not only supports the physical,literal truth we already know, but that it also never detracts from the glory of God.
        For example, many sacrifice the ultimate truth that Christ transcends all the physical fulfillments of the types n shadows of the old testament and fulfills them himself. They focus on physical land in Israel, a physical rebuilt temple, and an earthly throne where Christ will suposedly sit. But they miss the fact that New testament both teaches us differently and has the *final word* about how the old testament scriptures are to be interpreted. In doing so, Christ becomes lost in the shuffle and Christians end up roaming around in “we’ll never know land” instead of “Christ is reigning and sitting on the throne presently and I must obey him today land.” Oh I could go on but I would be charged for overloading cyberspace.

      • And therein lies our problem: obeying God’s word as if he truly is in control. There’s a strong connection between being able to understand God’s Word because we’re obeident to God’s Word. It isn’t a simple thing for our simple minds to get a glimpse of heaven, and the imagery the Holy Spirit led the authors of the Bible to use will complicate the issue for those who don’t interpret it through the power of the Spirit. Christians who are stuck in “we’ll never know land” could find their way out (though there is much about Jesus we won’t understand until he returns).

      • Think about acts 2. Was Peter exaggerating when he said Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy of the “moon turning to blood” and the “sun turning to darkness?” OR was it the literal fulfillment of a picture that prophet gave bc what he forsaw was beyond words? Peter himself saud “this IS that” (acts2:16) Imagery and symbolism *add* intensity and capture the wild, many-sidedness of God’s character. That doesn’t mean we sacrifice literal passages and spitualize them. It means we recognize that tho the manna was really real bread, the ultimate fulfillment is found in Jesus Christ alone; for he is the true bread of life that the manna merely pointed to.

      • I’ve tried to keep my end of the discussion with God’s promises to his children in mind. But, maybe the prophecy from Joel that Peter quoted in Acts 2 could be considered a promise (Great, that just confuses things even more). I almost referred to the “this IS that” thingy when replying to your other comment! You put it much better than I did “Imagery and symbolism add intensity and capture the wild, many-sidedness of God’s character.” The manna reference drives it home. Lori, you’ve outdone me by far on this one, my friend. God’s wild, many-sided character is what I long for!

  3. Me, too. I strongly suggest subscribing to the sound of grace newsletter if you are at all interested in New Covenant Theology. It’s well worth the $20/year and the time it takes to read. Absolutely brilliant theologians running that show. They’ve also written a myriad of books I highly reccommend. Check it out! http://www.newcovenantmedia.com/home.php

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