Tuesday, March 20, 2007

He's not a tame lion. No, but he's good.

So many times Christians try to smooth off some of God's rough edges, trying to minimize His actions that seem out of character, or at least not up to our expectations of a good and friendly deity.

Or, as R.C. Sproul has said, many try to "de-fang" God.

The following are some excerpts from the article entitled, "Playing with Knives: God the Dangerous" by Douglas Jones in Credenda Agenda (HT Ron). In the article he embraces the reality of who God is, described in C.S. Lewis' writing as a lion who is not tame, but who is good.

(Throughout, the emphasis is mine.)

In response to the command Abraham received in Gen 22
It's too easy to read the happy ending into the early part of Abraham's story. We now know the ending, so we domesticate the entire story, turning it into a rounded tale. We kill its horror. But actually to hear the original command would make most people suicidal. What hope is there if God Himself has become madness?

In our pietism, though, we tend to insist that God is primarily Nice. Period. God is Nice and Nicer and Nicest. The chief end of God is to be Nice. I believe in God the Nice. Maker of Niceness. In heaven, we'll all be Nice. Pilate wasn't Nice. He was mean, and "mean people suck." This whole modern Christian litany is so tedious and tiny. Of course, other people—equally foolish—think the solution is to be rude and mean. Yeah, God isn't nice; He's rude. But Yahweh is neither Nice or Rude: He is dangerous and unpredictable. He is Trinity. He is Fire, and fire is hard to contain. Sometimes all the advanced firefighting technology gets overcome in a canyon by a storm of flames. Sometimes people freeze next to a tiny flame. Fire's edges won't stand still; its borders aren't easily traced. "Our God is a consuming fire." God's command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac came right from the center of flame. As H. A. Williams notes, "Whatever God wants in our relationship with Him, it certainly isn't respectability."

The God of Abraham does not pen Hallmark cards. He is not a corporate risk manager. He is not a cruise director aiming to make our trip as pleasant and comfortable as possible. He is here to overturn tables and create people who can run alongside Him.


Yahweh yearns for "godly seed," and for Him that means He wants people who are people like Him, people who are holy, merciful, unpredictable, and dangerous.


And yet, almost always, we see Abraham portrayed in the sacrifice episode as distraught, grief-stricken, and faithless. One commentator says that this was a "heart-rending trial" and another says that "the words `take now thy son, thy only son Isaac' gripped Abraham's heart." Another says that "Abraham anguished" over the loss of his son. I once watched an actor portray an account of Abraham in which the actor wept and wept over the command to kill his son.

Kierkegaard's reading also seems to miss the point in a large way. Even if you dig out of Kiekegaard's gross individualism, he still muzzles the personality of God in this passage. You can only leap into absurdity if God's character is a void.

But the text doesn't give any of these responses. Why do we accept them? We are little unitarian Jobs. Abraham was truly tested; the text says that. But we have no hint of anguish or weeping. Why couldn't Abraham's faith be pictured as victorious and bold? He might have gone whistling up the mountain without a hint of anguish, because He knew the character of God. The character of God overflows any void.

We get clearer commentary from the book of Hebrews. Abraham wasn't anguishing; he was confident. He told his servant he and his Isaac would return in a bit. Hebrews 11:17-19 says that "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, `In Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense."

Abraham inferred resurrection. Not an expected move. But he wasn't dealing with a pasty God. With a dangerous God, faith most often means thinking counterintuitively. "Let God be true, though every man a liar." Being a friend of God means assuming that surfaces aren't the whole story; it means assuming the truth is often the opposite of where everything appears to be heading. "You have put all things in subjection under his feet, but . . ." Abraham was trained in counterintuition. He already knew that Yahweh played with knives. Knew that God liked crooked things and eagles. He assumed that God was dangerous enough that He could have Abraham execute Isaac and then raise him from the dead. For Abraham, the command to sacrifice Isaac was only a horror story on the surface. He saw through it. He knew that God was holy, compassionate, and dangerous.

No wonder Abraham was a friend of God. He wasn't embarrassed by Him. He loved His dangerousness. That's how you become a friend of Jehovah.

That's an interesting comment, "He wasn't embarrassed by Him." Aren't most church-going folk really embarrassed by God? Isn't that why folks try to cover up for Him? Try to soften the blow that Scripture portrays?

As a preacher, I love the freedom to let God be God and present Him to any who will listen as He presents Himself in Scripture, without apology.

Jehovah, not tame, but always good.



At 20 March, 2007 03:56, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

"As a preacher, I love the freedom to let God be God and present Him to any who will listen as He presents Himself in Scripture, without apology."

And Gun, you do it very well. I am thankful to have encountered the untamed goodness of our great God under your preaching!

Bless you!

At 20 March, 2007 08:03, Blogger Lance said...

Man, that's great stuff.

I'm studying and charting the book of Job right now (quite a task), and what I'm seeing in his three friends is a simplistic way of viewing God.
They pretend to know what God is up to, when we know better (having the opp. to see ch's 1 & 2).

His friends draw a box around God. Their god behaves for them. He would never let a blameless man suffer.
Yet we know differently.
And even being behind the scenes in Job, there's still some mystery, isn't there?
The Lord is complex and uncomfortably mysterious. He doesn't play by our rules and our limited perceptions. . .
. . . which gives us all the more reason to put our hope in Him.

Gunny, I'm so grateful that we have a God, around whom, we cannot place finite boundaries.
May our hope rest in the Infinite Mystery, rather than in our homemade gods.

At 20 March, 2007 17:55, Blogger Brent said...

Gunny, I just preached on that passage as we're making our way through Genesis. I actually got quite teary as I caught the eye of my oldest son just after reading the narrative. All I could think about was the reality of God's command to Abraham in the eyes of my son. Not really conducive to the modern pastoral image of "having it all together" now is it?

Good sloodge brother (did I use it correctly?)

At 20 March, 2007 17:59, Blogger Brent said...

Gunny, I just preached through this passage as we make our way (ever so slowly) through Genesis. I actually got quite teary after catching my oldest son's eyes just after reading the text. All I could think about was the reality and the weight of God's command and how much we try to withhold from God.

Good sloodge, brother (did I use that correctly?).

At 20 March, 2007 18:39, Blogger GUNNY said...

Well, Brent, we'll take off points for spelling ("slooge"), but you're within the spirit of the law.

"Not really conducive to the modern pastoral image of "having it all together" now is it?"

Hey, like elephants, pastors have feelings too.

Thanks, Jay the Bennett, for the encouragement to doctrinal fidelity and for keepin' it real yourself.

Ya know, Lance, that slooge in Job is pretty powerful stuff. I like that ... resting in the Infinite Mystery. Nice "slooge," as Brent would call it.


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