Monday, July 23, 2007

God with us? III

Dangerous goodness
During their time in the wilderness, the tabernacle pitched in the middle of the camp reminded the Israelites that God was with them. He had promised to meet Moses from his 'throne' between the golden cherubim above the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25.22). The Israelites could therefore say “God is with us”. Indeed, he had promised: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” His presence protected them, provided for them, guided them through the wilderness, and set out the good regulations by which they were to live. But this wasn’t all cause for celebration. To have the maker of heaven and earth living with you is not a safe prospect.

When world leaders arrive in Sydney for the APEC Conference this September, we’re going to know about it: road closures, parking restrictions, security checks, traffic escorts, a public holiday and a highly visible police presence. Current estimates place the security budget at $169 million. Many of the world’s leaders will be in our midst and every measure will be taken to ensure their security.

But when the living God dwells in the midst of his people, the precautions and barriers are not to keep him safe from the people, but to keep the people safe from him. God might have been with them, but he wasn’t in any straightforward sense simply on their side, at their beck and call. They could not keep God in a box. God didn’t live in the box, he sat on top of it, a king on his throne between the cherubim.*
*1 Samuel 4.4; 2 Samuel 6.2; 2 Kings 19.15; 1 Chron 13.6; Psalm 81.1; 99.1; Isaiah 37.16.

There’s a great passage in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, where the children are speaking with Mr and Mrs Beaver about the prospect of meeting the great lion Aslan, who in the novels represents the presence of God.

    “Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
    “That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs Beaver; "if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.”
    “Then he isn't safe?” said Lucy.
    “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. He's the King, I tell you.”
Dangerous goodness. That’s what it’s like to have God dwelling in your midst. Dangerous goodness. No one is safe from his purifying, life-giving power.
Apologies for using this Lewis quote again. I find it very useful.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.


Mr.Rufus CroMagnon said...

nicely said

byron smith said...


Anonymous said...

Byron, that routine in Narnia sometimes makes me cry.

Let me explain.

This passage with the Beavers has forever been imprinted on my mind as being about chemotherapy, hair loss, and seeing one's own child near death. As you know, my 5 year old Harry had Leukemia. He is now a healthy 8 year old in remission.

Some time after Harry recovered and was happily settled into school, he was asked if he would talk about cancer for a school cancer awareness week. This was when Harry was at Arden, and so we talked about a Christian response to cancer (and suffering generally) and this bit in Narnia came up.

I attempted to explain that God sometimes let "bad things" happen to his people so that greater good could come out of it, and that whatever happens, God's love and holiness is behind it. Harry looked confused. So rather than abstract, we went on a more concrete journey. I said God was sometimes like the doctors at hospital. They were "good doctors" trying to help save his life, but sometimes they did things that were not safe, like stick needles in his arms to take blood or give horrible medicine to save his life. God sometimes does things like that on us, but it's more surgery on our souls... on our very selves, than it is on our bodies.

I know it's the old "God as doctor" analogy that Lewis has used in other contexts, but when you're saying all this to your own child, one's heart is in one's mouth awaiting the response. That's when I finally wimped out, and used the line from the Beavers. Finally Harry got it. "Thanks Dad, that makes a lot of sense." (He's a very gracious kid sometimes.)

When Harry did his news the next day, even the teacher was impressed.

It all seems like a strange, distant nightmare now.

You Haven't Heard of Him said...

This isn't necessarily a comment about the blog entry, other than to say that this writing about the Ark of the Covenant is read by me with interesting timing as I just watched Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. :)