We must trust also in a ‘killing God.’ We must declare with Job, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’ (Job 13:15)
These words from the Puritan, William Gurnall, are not words you are likely to hear today. And yet I find I cannot dismiss them. They sprang to life as I read over one of the texts for Ash Wednesday. The prophet Joel begins,
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near (2:1)
Not everyone in the church today believes there is any need to tremble. We have so domesticated God that we wouldn’t recognize Him if he came throwing flaming arrows from a war horse, as Joel goes on to describe Him. God, we have told ourselves, is a cute bobble-head smiling down on us from our dashboards.
And we are his friends. Or so we think. Scripture repeatedly warns against assuming that friendship with God is a given. Jesus chastised the religious people of his day who trusted in their birthright as children of Abraham, telling them that they were in fact children of the devil (John 8:39-44). To be God’s friend, Jesus said, you must obey his commands (John 15:14).
True friendship with God is so elusive to so many of us because we think it’s either unimportant to God (it is) or that it’s our birthright (it’s not). God desperately desires friendship with you and I – real, passionate knowing of each other – giving His own Son to show just how serious He is about this, yet we miss out on it because we think God is too busy to really care or because we pridefully assume God is friends with all, requiring nothing of us. Jeremiah names our ailment when complaining about the wicked of his day, when he says God “is near in their mouth and far from their heart” (Jer. 12:2). Jesus confirms that this is true for many of us who would presume upon God’s friendship : Depart from me, I never knew you (Matt. 7:21-23).
Perhaps if we heard more words like those of the puritan Gurnall, or even better, just listened to our own Scriptures, we could correct either our indifference or our pride and rest in the tension that lies between the two. We have so gutted the bible of God’s terribleness, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, that we have successfully relieved ourselves from experiencing the tension of worshiping both a killing God and One who was killed for our sake.
From the beginning there has been a steady push to remove all of this violent, killing imagery from God, as though it is up to us to make God look more respectable and politically correct for mass consumption. A blog from an evangelical scholar questioning the Bible’s goodness and trustworthiness when it comes to talking about a killing God is just one among many attempts to fashion God into the best, nicest, me. Surely, we argue, God cannot be less loving and compassionate than me, right? And therein lies the problem:
God is not us. God is wholly other than us.
C.S. Lewis, in his wonderful book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, has this profound exchange,
“Is Aslan safe?”
‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe?
‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.
And then again,
“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”
There was a time when I tried to clean God up for greater consumption. I gutted Him of the images the prophets used to describe Him through the Spirit’s leading, the very images that caused people to tremble and rend their hearts. Today, perhaps I could be found guilty of swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction at times, but given the culture I move and breath in, I pray it offers a helpful balance. Yes, God is good. Yes, God is love. But I never want to be found guilty again of emptying God of His terribleness, or His wildness, or His holiness – of that thing which belongs to God and God alone that causes men to fall on their faces and beg for their lives (Isa. 6; Rev. 1:17).
Listen to Gurnall once more:
It takes a submissive faith for a soul to march steadily forward while God seems to fire upon that soul and shoot His frowns like poisoned arrows into it. This is hard work, and will test the Christian’s mettle. Yet such a spirit we find in the poor woman of Canaan, who caught the bullets Christ shot at her, and with a humble boldness sent them back again in her prayer (Matt. 15:22-28)
Somehow we must learn to live within this tension. Lent, I believe, offers us a time to sit and wrestle with this God who is both good and terrible at the same time. That I am invited into friendship with such a God is enough to rend my heart and humble me time and time again, causing a change in heart which before had eluded me.
Though I may want a God who is always blowing kisses my way from the dashboard, I need a God who will also throw arrows, piercing my wicked, wandering heart to a cross.