Hodder & Stoughton, 2005. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)
Way back in 1952 J.B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God is Too Small. In it he urged Christians to not put God in a box, but try to see him as he really is, in all his grandeur, majesty and magnificence. God is far bigger than our limited understanding of him.
And C.S. Lewis spoke about God as the “great iconoclast”. He is forever having to shatter our icons, our false pictures about Himself. We have distorted images of who God is. So God in his mercy has to break all the false and limiting understandings we have of who he really is.
In a similar vein, Kendall here writes about a disturbing trend in the church: the tendency to reduce God to a likeable, nice buddy and pal. He is a safe and domesticated God who will not want to upset us or challenge us. He is more of a celestial mate who exists to keep us happy, than the awesome God of the universe that demands our obedience and reverence.
Thus the subtitle of this book: Is Your God Too Nice? Kendall argues that most of us want a nice God, a tame God, an inoffensive God, a non-demanding God, a likable God and an easy-to-get-along-with God. But the real God of the universe is not necessarily any of these things.
Indeed, we “are embarrassed about the God of the Bible, especially the God of the Old Testament,” says Kendall, and “even the teachings of Jesus and the apostles when it comes to the need and the only way to be saved, God’s right to judge and (last but not least) hell.”
These can all be uncomfortable doctrines for some Christians, so we have a habit of glossing them over, or denying them altogether. The truth is, we want a nice God, a manageable God, and a tame God. And we certainly do not want to offend others, to rock the boat, or to appear to be too radical or divisive.
All of which means we have put God in a box and made him in our own image. Kendall says we must stop “apologizing for God” and “give up trying to make him look appealing”. Only by upholding the real God of the Bible will we bring honour to him and make a difference in this world. But the Nice God “is not big enough, strong enough, awesome enough or knowledgeable enough to hurt a fly”.
We have de-stigmatised the Christian message, watered down the claims of God, and taken the offence out of the Gospel. But if we will be true to God and his Word, then we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones, and suffer with Jesus outside the camp, bearing his disgrace, as Hebrews 13:13 says.
Kendall mentions various ways in which we will need to step out of our comfort zones. One is to be willing to be made a fool for Christ’s sake. It means being willing to do what our Lord asks of us, even if it means we end up receiving all the world’s ridicule, derision and scorn.
As Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 1, God chooses to use the weak, foolish and lowly things of the world to get his job done. Unless we are willing to humble ourselves and identify with our Lord in his shame and disgrace, we will not be effective for him.
Certain doctrines must also be reclaimed. The fear of the Lord is one of them. This doctrine is emphasised throughout Scripture. But we have managed to water it down and anesthetise it. We say that the fear of the Lord really means just having awe and reverence. It does mean that, but much more as well.
As Kendall notes, the fear of God is a very serious matter in Scripture. The God with whom we have to do is not to be trivialised and made safe. He is a consuming fire. And when we are told to fear God, often that means just that – to fear God.
For example, the same word is used in Matt. 1:20, when an angel tells Joseph not to fear taking Mary as a wife. Surely this does not mean, “Do not be in awe”. It means do not be afraid. The same term is used of how we should approach God. A bit of holy fear would do us all a lot of good.
Sure, we are reconciled to God because of what Jesus did, but that does not mean God becomes some safe, tame and nice cosmic grandfather. Kendall points out the many passages in the Gospels and Acts where we read of the disciples being filled with great fear. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In many other ways Kendall urges us to get out of our comfort zones and let God be God. We have for too long settled for a domesticated and humanised God. As Lucy had to be reminded in the Lewis Narnia stories, Aslan (the Christ figure) is not to be trifled with.
Lucy asks if Aslan is safe. She is answered with these words: “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you”. While we can all have a personal love relationship with God through Christ, we still remain humans, and he still remains God. We always need to keep this truth in mind.
Kendall has done a good job of reminding us that God is God, and he will not be brought down to our level. Indeed, what God wants is to bring us up to his level. But we come to him on his terms, not ours. This book is a good reminder of these truths. We do not need a nice God. We need the God of Scripture and him alone.