Friday, September 28, 2007

Not a Tame God

In C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a scene occurs where four children who are exploring the magical land of Narnia have a conversation with some talking beavers. These beavers are explaining to the children about the lion Aslan, who represents God and Jesus Christ. In asking about what Aslan is like, the children ask, “Is he dangerous, or is he safe?” Surprised at the question, the beavers answer that “He’s not a Tame Lion!” and something to the effect that a lion isn’t safe, but he is good. I think that is a good insight into how we think about God.

The way that many people seem to approach God, is that we are trying to tame God. Or really, we are trying to create an image or understanding of God that fits with what we want God to be. Something manageable yet benevolent, sort of like the kindly old grandfather who winks at your faults. Or an absentee landlord who only checks in on us on rare occasions. A God that would never send anyone to hell, a God that was utterly separated from the warfare of the Israelites in conquering Canaan, and a God who would not work in unpredictable or unexpected ways. We try to knock off all the hard edges of the way the Bible speaks of God and His actions throughout history. This is captured well by a quote from Mark Twain, “In the beginning God created mankind in His image; ever since man has been returning the favor!” In other words, mankind is always trying to make God in our own image. Which is idolatry of course. The first commandment states, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

I suspect some of the reasons we engage in this sinful enterprise of fashioning our own image of God, are that for one, we want a God that we can face. We want safety. We want a God who is easy to digest and presentable enough for us to share with other people. We don’t want a God who identifies our sins. But we must let God be God. Hidden in these attempts to refashion God, I think there is a truly human, and understandable impulse. Job spoke of it in the Old Testament, when he was beset with enormous difficulties and loss in his life. He lamented that God “is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me. Then I would speak without fear of him, for I am not so in myself” (Job 9:32-35). What Job wanted was a God with a face. He wanted to meet God like a man, and contend his case with him, safe from the rod of discipline and the dread of God’s holiness. Then Job could speak to God without fear.

I think this is what our attempts all amount to—trying to create a God we can face without fear. But the irony of Job’s wish, that God would be a man, is that now in Christ Jesus that wish is fulfilled! In Christ Jesus, God is a man, and He has a face. He is the “arbiter” or mediator between God and man. In Christ Jesus we can approach God without fear and dread. And we don’t have to engage in silly and sinful games to refashion God’s image. (Though we are not immune to attempts to refashion Jesus also, to fit our own agendas). No, we dare not try to “tame” God. God is terrifying in His supreme majesty, His limitless power, His control of the universe by His divine Word, and His power to give life and take it away. God is unapproachable in His bare majesty; in fact in the Old Testament God told Moses “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). But God showed Moses His back, so that he would not perish in seeing God’s full glory.

Instead of “taming” God, we approach God in Jesus Christ, who has revealed and made God known to us (John 1:18). In Christ Jesus, we find that God is indeed good toward us, and that His true Fatherly heart towards us is to love us and see us redeemed by His Son. In Christ Jesus, God has a face, and in that face we see the sternness of God’s judgment against sin, but also the compassion and mercy of the one who took that judgment upon Himself.

In the end, a God whom we have to reduce, refashion, or recreate in our own image—is not only a false idol of our own making, but it is also a god that is powerless to save us. Only the true God, who is indeed fearfully holy and powerful, yet abounding in steadfast mercy and love (Ex. 34:6)—only this God can save us. In His hidden will and His hidden ways, God is indeed mysterious and His ways are beyond our understanding, but in Christ Jesus we see God’s revealed will and His revealed ways. And His revealed will is that “all men would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). This is how we ought to understand God, and how we ought to approach God—through the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and through His Holy Scriptures that reveal this face of God to us. And we may leave the mysteries of God to remain to His glory until we meet Him face to face in heaven.

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