“When I caught Gerald in ‘68 he was completely wild.”
“Wild? I was absolutely livid!”
There’s a cliché that abounds in evangelical spaces that you can’t “put God in a box”. Well, no. If we’re feeling particularly clever with ourselves, we might then quip that “someone tried that, it didn’t end well.” Quite.
I haven’t heard this so much in the last few years, but I’ve said it myself and would happily own the sentiment even if I think it’s a little cringe-inducing. The pedant in me wants to point out that Jesus was placed in a tomb cut from stone, no coffins in sight.
There’s a good point to be made here but I don’t know if our language or our actions really convey it.
If we mean “you can’t define God clearly” this is false. It might sound like a true thing to say, after all is God not beyond our ken? But it’s the sort of true sounding falsehood that waves its hands over thousands of years of erudite theological reflection, over the scriptures, the creeds and the traditions of the church. It sounds sort of true in a modern world where we expect things to be obvious and under control, but don’t want to put the work in to find out if they are.
God is clearly defined: he is. He is majestic, infinite, impassible, simple, immutable, and timeless. God is transcendent, immanent, all-knowing, all-powerful, loving, pure, holy and good. Immortal, invisible, God only wise. Yahweh, Yahweh, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34).
If that’s a box it’s a really big one. Universe-sized. Maybe bigger.
God is wild
If we mean “God is wild and surprising” then this is true. God is wild. He isn’t domesticated. He doesn’t wipe his feet on the way in (because they aren’t dirty). He doesn’t conform to our expectations. We’re told over and over again in the Bible to fear God, and nothing else. Christians are people who face their fears with courageous hearts because we’re committed to only fearing God. To fear God is not the say that God is terrifying per se (though, when faced with our sin before a just judge, his right action has terrifying consequences for me) but it is to say that he should fill me with awe the way a wide ocean or bleak moor or rugged peak does.
It takes a peculiar mind to read the descriptions of God in the Old Testament, metaphorical though some may be, and not get a sense of overawing power.
Yahweh spoke everything that you see into being (Genesis 1), he holds the seas in the hollow of his hand (Isaiah 40), he holds lightening like a spear and the sun and moon stand still in awe (Habakkuk 3). He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50), he sends the rain and snow, orders the stars to wheel in the cosmos, and opens and shuts the doors of the sea (Job 38). He rides an incomprehensible chariot, attended by terrifying angelic figures, sits upon a throne of gems and looks as though he is full of fire and light (Ezekiel 1).
“But Tim”, you cry, “Now we know more than those bronze age desert nomads.” About some things, I can agree. “Surely we know God is really a well manicured business man who speaks our language and keeps things running nicely?” Come off it.
I understand the urge to understand that perhaps these are metaphors and God doesn’t literally have a storehouse for snow, but I think we should let the Bible speak. Metaphors are more powerful than explanations.
Do we really believe that?
Perhaps there’s no disagreement here. You’re happy to allow that God is fierce and mighty. But, here’s the kicker, do our lives or our churches reflect this God? Does mine?
I act like I expect God to act in predictable ways, and the natural world would affirm that as a good assumption. God clearly, as Chesterton would have it, delights like a child in doing the same thing again and again. Our world runs on the principle that God tends to act in the same way, it underlies the scientific method, its implicit in most of our decision making: its reasonable.
The problem I think is that in my own mind and my own heart I end up making God small. I imagine he is so much less than he is. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12)!
Do my prayers reflect this? Do I live my life like my best friend is the ferocious fiery commander of legions of angels? Do our church meetings look like the God we worship is the almighty maker of heaven and earth? Would those who come in catch something of the awe, the fear, of Yahweh the God without limits?
Now it’s not as though my expectations of God, my practices, and what I ask him for confine him at all. He remains wild even when I domesticate him. But they might confine my prayers.
We don’t make God smaller, we miss out on becoming bigger ourselves.
Photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash