I’ve heard it said that there are no right angles in nature. Other, perhaps, than the tail of the African warthog. But besides that—there are none. I’ll tell you what else there ‘isn’t’ in nature: flat ground. Just doesn’t exist. Okay, maybe the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, but seriously, that’s it. I know this because I have yet to sleep on a flat surface when camping in the wilderness. Oh, it may look flat. But trust me, it’s not. You either wake up with a headache because all the blood has pooled overnight in your brain, or your sleeping bag turns into a slow motion dirt toboggan, transporting you several excruciating yards downrange of where you planted yourself the night before. Oor— a large boulder appears under the small of your back in the middle of the night in an attempt to form you into the first right angle in nature. Bottom line: Nature is uncomfortable, because nature is WILD.
The light was already beginning to fade at the end of the nine mile hike into the Trinity Alps. It was opening weekend of rifle season and Andrew Perry and I had finally decided on a camp site with an astonishing view of the peaks that had watched every burdened step of our journey. A soft breeze tugged at the scents clinging stubbornly to our still damp t-shirts. The heat of the day, having allied itself with the steepness of the alpine trails in an attempt to keep our advance at bay, now relinquished its hold on the land in favor of a creeping chill. Somewhere, in the deepening darkness of the tangled gulch below, a bird sounded a lonely cry that for all the world mimicked perfectly the jingle of some forsaken cell phone. And so it was, as Andrew and I sat on that high shale outcropping beneath a brackish-blue sky packed with points of light— light that appeared suspended on the ends of varying lengths of fishing line— that I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable before God. “It seems to me,” I found myself observing carefully to Andrew, “that when the environment gets wilder, God seems more wild as well.” How wild is your God?
In one of the prayer seminars I teach we talk about the diminishing attention paid to the ‘Majestic Holiness’ of God. Proof of this is that many of you are, at this exact moment, wondering silently to yourselves what in the world that is! Do you remember the illustration a couple weeks back about being pulled by a rope towards the edge of the Grand Canyon? As one of three attempts to express what I feel when I think about the holiness of God, that example mentioned three feelings that are, though characteristic of an encounter with Majestic holiness, now sharply unfamiliar to many Christians today: 1)Awe 2)Fear 3)Dread. ‘What gives?’ You may be asking—‘I thought God was our friend!’ Oh, He is; but He’s the most loving kind, the kind that will tell you your fly is down, the kind that will tell you when you’re wrong, the kind that is willing to be misunderstood and disliked for the sake of your best interest. God is not a ‘yes man.’ He’s the kind of friend you can’t blackmail or bribe or strong-arm into going along with your mischief. He’s the kind of friend who’s desperately loyal but hopelessly unpredictable.
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, book one of the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S.
Lewis, Aslan is described as an incredible lion who is King of Narnia and friend to the human children that have mysteriously found their way there. At one point, referencing Aslan, Mr. Tumnis says to little Lucy, “He’s not a tame lion.” “No,” responds Lucy with confidence, “but he’s good.” The Majestic Holiness of God is a reminder that God is not tame. He is not a caged lion, He is a wild one. He submits to no one and to nothing other than the limits He voluntarily places on Himself. But He is good. “God is threatening,” says R.C. Sproul, “and He threatens with Justice.” Sproul continues, ‘God always reserves the right to temper His threats of justice with mercy, but He never tampers with a promise of mercy by withdrawing it and replacing it with justice’ (summarized). We cannot expect God to stay within the boundaries of our understanding, but we can trust Him to operate within the parameters of His character, and at the underpinnings of His character can be found an unchanging and eternal goodness. God is not tame, but He is Good.
Nor, in one sense, is He ‘safe.’ I made this comment during one seminar and got a very upset response from an attendee. “What do you mean, ‘God is not safe?’” she asked with alarm. Tony Snow, the former Bush Press Secretary who eventually lost his battle with colon cancer in July of 2008 wrote this before he died—“Even though God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity—filled with life and love we cannot comprehend.” God is not ‘safe’ in the sense of being predictable. “[But,]” Secretary Snow continued— “no matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God’s hand.” God is not safe in the sense of being predictable. But like the encounter at the Grand Canyon, He’s ‘safe’ in that His bottom-line motivation when dealing with His children is always Love. God is not safe, but He is Love.
As I hiked and hunted in the Alps last weekend it became clear to me how much environment, culture and circumstance can affect our understanding of what God is like. When there are no sharp sticks of uncertainty poking into our backs, when there are level sidewalks of convenience for walking, when every surface in our homes and churches is padded and carpeted for maximum comfort, our view of God can become overly comfortable as well. It’s not until you’re lying in a sleeping bag with your feet uphill over an anthill while bears creep just outside your field of vision that you remember— God is not domesticated. And yet, even as in His wild unpredictability He works with sovereignty to guide and sanctify your life, He is Good, and He is Love. And He will bring you safely Home.
Surrounded By Grace,