Down in our bones, mingled with our blood, silent and potent as instinct, is a dread of God. Part of our essence is a longing to flee. There is a fear of God, the Proverbs tells us, that is the beginning of wisdom, the threshold for knowing God. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m referring to a more primal, deep down craven terror, a black hole of unknowing.
We know we should desire intimacy with God. The better and saner part of our being does. But there is in each of us a dark impulse that prefers separation, a love of distance. We want to see God, just not face-to-face, but in rough silhouette, to hear Him, not the thunder of His shout or the sweetness of His whisper, but only rumors of Him, faint and faraway echoes.
Like the Israelites at the bottom of Mount Sinai we want a mediator such as Moses.
We exhibit a primal fear. The voice of God, the presence of God, holds not comfort but terror. The way tigers and tyrants, cyclones and cyclopses frightens us we fear God. So we want it muffled, mediated, caged. We settle for–no, demand–echoes, rumors, shadows. We long for hearsay about God, but do not ourselves want to hear God say anything.
We prefer priests or preachers, evangelists, some kind of go-between; someone else to handle the fire and risk death in the encounter with the living God. Perhaps this is the secret agenda of many of our committees; to find someone who will keep God afar, make God safe.
Speak to us yourself, and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us.
Why? There is no easy explanation. A large part, maybe an obvious reason, has to do with God’s holiness and our unholiness. But maybe not. Maybe there is something more.
Jesus Himself said He would not entrust Himself to man because He knew all men and knew what was in them (John2:25). He knows our lethargic indifference to matters of high importance, our rabid passion for matters that are trivial.
He knows how we get angrier at traffic or when an appointment can’t be scheduled at our most convenient time than we do at crimes of genocide. He knows we rejoice more in a winning game than we do in the news that the hungry are fed, the lost are found.
He knows we get more excited and show more praise for our favorite artist at a music concert than we do during His praise and worship service.
So Jesus doesn’t trust Himself to us. But we return the like. We don’t entrust ourselves to Jesus.
We don’t mind the magic tricks, water into wine, bread crumbs and fish bones into banquets, lame men into dancers, mutes into pop stars; but these commands of His–“Follow Me!”–we can do without.
Follow you? I don’t think so. Follow you where? Have You made hotel arrangements? Did You purchase cancellation and travel insurance? What kind of outfits do I need pack? No, Jesus. I’m just going to sit right here where it’s safe or until You come up with a better offer.
Daily we experience harrowing emotions over mere trifles and can barely muster a dull ache over matters of shattering tragedy. We feel we have no time and no energy for the things that we know matter deeply, even eternally, but waste much time on silly unimportant diversions.
We are impatient with our children who want only moments of our time, but then find hours to spend on the computer or in front of the TV or any other self-absorbed activity. We read article after article on the internet, read the latest celebrity gossip, but not our Bible much.
We refuse to listen for God and look for God. We want it safe to where we aren’t uncomfortable. But when trouble comes question His devotion to us as if we are in a place to do so. We place Him below us and put ourselves as gods demanding answers, “Why haven’t you done this or that for me? Can’t you see I’m struggling?”
We believe everyone else has more money, longer vacations, better cars, nicer clothes, fewer things go wrong with their possessions and with their family than we do.
Long ago we began to wonder where the freedom was that Jesus promised. We don’t feel free. We ask ourselves, “Is everyone else fulfilled and I’m the only one who’s not?”
This is where we believe God is just safe. Stuck in between. Believing but not seeing. Not wanting to see.
The safe god asks nothing of us, gives nothing to us. He never drives us to our knees in hunger, desperate praying and never sets us on our feet in fierce, fixed determination. He never makes us bold to dance. The safe god never whispers in our ears anything but greeting card slogans and certainly never asks that we embarrass ourselves by shouting out from the rooftop. He doesn’t make us a kingdom of priests.
A safe god inspires neither awe, nor worship, nor sacrifice.
A safe god woos us to safety and keeps us stuck there. He helps us escape reality.
The God who actually is, the God whose way of speaking and acting and being are disclosed to us in Scripture, continues through Christ, “full of grace and truth,” to come among “that which is his own.” And, as before, “his own do not receive him” because they “do not recognize him” (John 1:10, 11, 14).
The safe god has no power to console us in grief or shake us from complacency or rescue us from the pit.
God isn’t nice. God isn’t safe. God is a consuming fire. The God who truly is, who seeks you and me, who desires our holiness, is far more loving and comforting than the safe god. And the true God is far more fierce and fearsome than the bullying and petulant god of our imaginations.
Why leave the idol of the safe god and risk our good standing in our community? Why? Because this safe god is actually our worst enemy. He breeds cowardice. He plunders our fields and steals our crops. He keeps us stuck, complacent, bored, angry, frustrated, stressed, threshing our meager wheat where the wind never blows. This safe god simply isn’t real.
And the God who is not safe wants to show us wonders and set us free.
Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course He’s not safe.
But He’s good. And He is real.