Why We Sleep–and the God Who Doesn’t

 
Nick Tucker | April 30th 2022

“You’re in trouble.”

I wasn’t sure whether to believe her. Bitter experience has taught me that when someone tells me that I’m in trouble, I probably am. Yet a twinkle in her eye suggested that all was not entirely lost.

“Oh dear,” I said, “was it something I said?” (It normally is.)

“I nearly didn’t get here this morning,” she replied, at which point my heart rate dropped a bit. I was the guest preacher for a church weekend retreat, and I felt pretty sure that this member’s transport problems were unlikely to be my fault.

“It’s your fault,” she added.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that...” I had to know more.

It turns out that this lady had lost her husband several years ago. She had not slept through a single night since. That morning, though, she had not lain awake listening to the dawn chorus for hours as usual, but had woken to the sound of banging at her front door, which she eventually realised was the person who had come to drive her to that day’s meetings. She had not only slept through the night—she had overslept.

How, you might ask, could this have been my fault? She put her sleepiness down to the talks I had given the evening before. It’s not unheard of for my talks to put people to sleep, but normally they wake up when I stop speaking. This time, though, was different. This time, the effect was (to my surprise, I’ll admit) exactly what the title of the talk suggested should happen: 12 Things God Can’t Do and How They Can Help You Sleep at Night.

12 Things God Can't Do

12 Things God Can't Do

$14.99 $12.74

A book on God’s greatness that helps you to trust him, grow in faith and live confidently.

The Secret to Sleeping Soundly

I hope that you might have a similar experience. Knowing God better really should help us to sleep more soundly.

Don’t believe me? Ask King David.

Psalm 3 begins with him describing a situation of appalling stress: “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” (v 1). It’s so bad that the talk of the town is that “God will not deliver him” (v 2). David wrote this psalm whilst on the run from his son Absalom, who had led an apparently successful coup d’état to take the throne (see 2 Samuel 15 – 18). David escaped, but now had a target on his back.

But Psalm 3 holds a remarkable surprise: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me” (v 5). To David, the amazing bit of that verse was probably the middle portion: “I wake again”. After all, there were plenty of people trying to prevent that outcome.

For me though, I can’t get over the fact that he slept at all.

Sleep is something we can normally only do when we feel safe. Apparently, on the first night in a new place, half your brain remains alert all night, vigilant to threats. When you think about it, you realise what an act of trust falling asleep normally is. You are so vulnerable: you have no idea what’s going on around you and you cannot look after yourself. When we face stress or threats, our bodies’ “fight or flight” mechanisms make restful sleep feel like unicorn tears: hard to imagine and impossible to obtain.

When you realise what God can’t do, his greatness might just blow your mind.

So, if people are literally out for your blood, as they were for David’s, sleep won’t come easily. A soldier in enemy territory won’t just lie down and sleep because it’s bedtime. Only the watchful eye of a comrade keeping lookout makes sleeping a vaguely safe thing to do. But David slept through this period of terrible stress because he had someone better than a comrade watching over him: “You, Lord, are a shield around me” (v 3). Safe in that knowledge, David says that he will “not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side” (v 6). As the very next psalm puts it: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

David knew just how powerful God is, and how faithful he is to his promises. And my book aims to give you the same confidence. I long to give you a glimpse of God’s greatness that will change the way you see the world—and, yes, help you to sleep at night.

Marvel at God’s Otherness

To think about God’s greatness, we naturally tend to talk about what God can do. We, however, are going to consider what God can’t do—and when you realise what God can’t do, his greatness might just blow your mind.

To show you what I mean—and while we are on the subject of sleep—consider this: God can’t sleep. That’s a truth we find in Psalm 121. It’s part of a series of psalms called the Songs of Ascent which were sung by pilgrims on the challenging, dangerous (and uphill) journey to Jerusalem. As they walked, they sang songs of praise to God to encourage and comfort each other:

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel;
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
(v 3-4)

God will never take his eye off the ball; he will never drift off and fail to watch over and take care of his people. His people can rest, because he won’t. Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables, expressed the point beautifully:

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.

We sleep because we need to sleep. But God doesn’t.

We tend to see things from our own point of view. So, we often think about God as basically like us, just much, much, bigger. But one of the main things that God wants us to know is that he is not like anything in creation and we shouldn’t think of him as if he were. Hence we sleep, but he doesn’t.

This is an adapted extract from 12 Things God Can’t Do by Nick Tucker. Previously a Bible teacher at Oak Hill Theological College, Nick now serves as the vicar of St Bartholomew’s Edgbaston. In this intriguing book, he explores 12 things that God can’t do, which all express aspects of his nature and character which we can embrace with relief, celebrate with joy and worship with awe. You will marvel both at God’s otherness and at how he became one of us in the person of Jesus.

Nick Tucker

Nick Tucker is Vicar of St Bartholomew's Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK. He is married to Sam and they have three children. Previously he taught at Oak Hill Theological College and holds a doctorate from the University of Stirling.

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