Why Do People Put God in a Box?

Accredited to the writer, Ruth Harms Calkin, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do,” may well be one of the first Sunday School songs you learned as a child. Holding your little arm up to make a muscle as you sang, your soul genuinely believed God could do anything.

And then you grew up. You dove deeper into theology and matured not only in body but in your faith. This vision you had of a strong, limitless God began to fade away as you lived your adult life and learned the parameters church doctrine said must encompass your image of God.

Then one day you experienced something which ignited a moment of awareness. The idea of God you held felt small. Suddenly, the realization hit you, “I have put God in a box.” The concept of “there’s nothing my God cannot do,” was no longer close at heart.

Instead, God had to match curated terms, denominational limitations, or Hebrew and Greek names someone decided to describe and itemized His character. How did you end up putting God in a box? Why do people fall into this limiting belief?

To answer this question, I did a quick web search to see what other people had to say. The majority of thoughts included:

  • You don’t have enough faith.
  • You don’t trust God enough.

I would like to present to you some “not so common” ideas of why people put God in a box.

Human Labels

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17).

Humans like to categorize, label, alphabetize, and itemize. It’s how we keep order. It’s how we keep things organized in our world. When you remove limitations or explanations, things feel out of order because then again, anything is possible. So back to the confines of our systems and boundaries we go.

From a study of Christianity, you can see that for thousands of years, people have been trying to get God inside a box. That box might have a beautiful denominational label, scriptural proof, learned scholar agreements, or your pastor said it was true.

But is that box of human design? Do the labels limit God? Are they a finite attempt at molding an infinite God into a form of human understanding?

Who we choose to fellowship with is often based on if we agree with them about certain things. And many of those check-marked items on the list include a belief about God. Seeing God outside of the constructs we have built around Him can become impossible if you’re not careful.

Negative Experience

What you have lived, what you have experienced for yourself didn’t match what you thought, or had been taught, about God. So, as a means of defense, you put God in a box. This may be part of a Spiritual Identity Disruption™.

“God is unloving and uncaring because He allowed my child to die,” or perhaps, “I was abused by a religious leader and no one protected me, God doesn’t care about me.”

I have been there. When what I was taught about the Christian life and God didn’t match what I had just lived through, which was life-altering and left me with physical and emotional wounds, I questioned the existence of God. I felt abandoned and deceived.

If you have had a traumatic or abusive experience that has led you to put God into a box, with the lid shut tightly and you taped the heck out of it too…that’s okay. He’ll be there if or when you’re ready to peek inside again.

Control and Fear

When we live with a pre-set idea of God, things seem under control. Expectations are in place. Conversing with other Christians just flows, after all, you use the same vocabulary and have the same presuppositions about God. Views of God have united and divided people throughout church history.

If we hold to the open-ended belief of, “there’s nothing my God cannot do,” we have no way of predicting what will happen. This can be terrifying when the rest of your spiritual foundation is very easily explained or proven through hermeneutics, apologetics, or basic Bible knowledge.

Fear so often is at the root of why we believe what we believe.

People can also use ideas or beliefs about God to control others. This is where religious or spiritual abuse can creep into a home or community. Concepts of who God is or what He wants from people can be used to manipulate, coerce, and even abuse.

Putting God in a box creates a viable ecosystem for authoritarian and narcissistic personalities. It provides the tool they need to control the narrative and people around them.

In his book, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, Chuck DeGroat states:

“…ministry is a magnet for narcissistic personality — who else would want to speak on behalf of God every week? While the vast majority of people struggle with public speaking, not only do pastors do it regularly, but they do it with ‘divine authority.’”

Churches are particularly susceptible to a phenomenon called ‘collective narcissism,’ in which the charismatic leader/follower relationship is understood as a given.

Sadly, in recent years we’ve witnessed too many instances of charismatic Christian leaders gaining a massive following, both within the church and on social media, only to be exposed as manipulative, abusive, and dictatorial.”

People Think They Have To

Depending on your religious background, you possibly were given a very exacting picture of who God is, what He wants, what He allows/doesn’t allow, and what He thinks you should do.

Because you have been told one thing, one way your whole life, and you believed it with a pure, sincere heart, you honestly think you have to keep God in the box you were taught existed.

Why Do People Limit God?

Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:41, NKJV).

Often, it’s our own hurt, things we have lived through, or downright binary thinking that keeps us from experiencing who God is in all His vastness. We get lost in our pain and are confused by the voices of (mostly) well-intentioned people.

Sometimes pride hinders us because we have to be right about a certain theology or doctrinal point. Or circling back to what we have been told are God’s or our faith’s limitations.

Humans put God in a box because it makes sense to us. We can wrap our brains around our preconceived philosophies, and it helps us explain or understand life and our faith.

But perhaps, if we embrace the mystery and space in between what we know about God (through education and experience) and what we don’t know or possibly are a bit fearful of, we will discover that the view of God we had as a Sunday School kid was right, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.”

For further reading:

Is There Anything God Can’t Do?

Why Is Spiritual Maturity Important?

What Are the Most Important Things to Understand about the Nature of God?

Can a Christian Doubt God and Still Have Faith?

Old Understanding, New Understanding

Can God Heal a Broken Heart?

What Does it Mean That God Is Able?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/vladans


AuthorRebekah Drumsta’s work has been globally reaching by serving with various nonprofits and organizations. Her background is diverse including educational and online content development, event coordinating, international relations, and public speaking. Currently, Rebekah delights in being a homeschool mom and Life Coach. She serves as Director of PR for an international non-profit while also hosting her personal blog, RebekahDrumsta.com which focuses on recovery after religious trauma and spiritual abuse. Rebekah holds a BA in Urban Ministry and Family Crisis with a Christian Counseling Minor, an MA in Religious Education, and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. She has made appearances on and consulted with sources including BBC, NBC, ABC, The Daily Telegraph, and a variety of other platforms.

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