CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

He’s Not a Tame Lion

May 23, 2010

We live in an age in which everything has become trivialised and demeaned. We do not take things very seriously anymore, except perhaps ourselves. Sadly this disposition seems to have penetrated much of the church as well. And it becomes most apparent in our attitude toward the God of the universe.

Today we tend to see God as our pal, our buddy, our mate. Moreover, for many believers, he exists for us and our needs. He is a celestial butler, waiting to do what we ask of him. He has become far too common, too ordinary, too stripped of his majesty, holiness and awe-fulness.

The fear of God has largely disappeared amongst us, as has his terror and his absolute holiness. Jesus fares even worse. He is not much more than a pop star to many, or a celebrity. One recent Christian song was based on this refrain: “I like Jesus more than ice cream”.

Well, I am glad the creator of the universe gets a slightly higher ranking than ice cream. I am glad the one who suffered a horrible death so that we might be set free from our sin-soaked life is up there with Baskin-Robbins 31 flavours.

Jesus is now little more than a pop icon or a cool dude. He is no longer viewed as Scripture presents him. Jesus is certainly a loving, compassionate and gracious figure. But he is not just that. Consider just one passage from the Book of Revelation:

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:11-16).

One way to see how different our attitudes to God are from those who have gone before is to simply see what an encounter with God resulted in as we read Scripture or study church history. Throughout the Bible we find people finding a meeting with God to be a fearful and terrible thing.

When people came into God’s presence, they knew they were somewhere special, and a proper holy fear and reverence always overtook them. Consider just a few such encounters. When Moses encountered God, this was the first thing he heard: “‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground’” (Exo 3:5).

When Isaiah had an encounter with the Almighty we read of the result: “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (Is 6:5).

Or consider Ezekiel’s meeting with God: “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown (Ezek 1:28). And when John encountered the risen Christ, this was the result: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17).

Indeed, most times when we read about a mere man encountering God, prostration and worship were the only possible outcome. Indeed, the two terms come from the same Hebrew term. A proper response to God was to fall prostrate before him, worshipping and adoring him.

Do yourself a favour, and do a study of all the times men and women of God found themselves flat on their faces as they met and worshipped the one true and living God. And it may not be a bad practice for us modern believers to cultivate on a regular basis. We need to see more believers with carpet burns on their faces.

Great saints of God have also spoken to this issue. A. W. Tozer could say this: “The Scriptures declare, ‘Abram fell on his face’ as the Lord talked with him (Genesis 17:3). Abraham was reverent and submissive. Probably there is no better picture anywhere in the Bible of the right place for mankind and the right place for God. God was on His throne speaking, and Abraham was on his face listening!”

Or as he said elsewhere: “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.”

And Leonard Ravenhill put it this way, for example: “I’m sick to death of the so-called Christianity of our day. What’s supernatural about it? When do people come out of the sanctuary awed and can’t speak for an hour because God has been in glory there? Dear God, as soon as they get out, they’re talking football, or sports or something, or there’s going to be a big sale downtown somewhere. We are not caught up into eternity!”

And again, “Do you go to church to meet God or to hear a sermon about Him? How many come to church expecting a confrontation with Deity?” C.S. Lewis had this right as he depicted God in his Narnia series. Aslan the Lion was the Christ figure, and Lewis made sure that people got him right. As he put it in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

“‘Is – is he a man?’ asked Lucy. ‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh,’ said Susan, ‘I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and make 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’.”

Or as Lewis put it in The Last Battle: “‘Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?’ said Tirian. ‘Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion’.” I let Tozer once again have the last word:

“Christ can never be known without a sense of awe and fear accompanying the knowledge. He is the fairest among ten thousand, but He is also the Lord high and mighty. He is the friend of sinners, but He is also the terror of devils. He is meek and lowly in heart, but He is also Lord and Christ who will surely come to be the judge of all men. No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presence.”

[1328 words]

12 Responses to He’s Not a Tame Lion

  • Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Robespierre were in their own eyes brave realists who in resigning themselves to a world where love or mystery no longer exist were encouraged to treat people as a means towards an end. Are we really to believe that these stark and tough – minded people, in giving up all hope of a God, were inevitably led, against their better judgment, to impose their own tyranny on millions of others? How courageous and incredibly humble these leaders were in not believing in the dignity and uniqueness of humanity and in this way, led to engaging in mass murder and genocide – just as we are today with abortion and euthanasia.
    But just imagine, just supposing they were to wake up on the either side of death and suddenly find themselves in the blazing presence of the absolute source of all love,goodness, personhood, truth, meaning, beauty, holiness and justice – someone who would demand an account of their earthly lives, because they were made in the image of God. Would they say “Phew What a relief. If only I had known, I would not have been forced to live as though God did not exist – how wonderful”? No, there will be howls of rage, terror and a gnashing of teeth.

    David Skinner, UK

  • The transfiguration of Jesus recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9 is also important. I had myself, until recently, not really properly considered the fact that who Jesus really is was veiled from us. His full glory, His blinding and utter holiness is something we can only imagine. Even the fact He was not recognized after the resurrection testify to the fact that there is much more than meets the eye to Him! I found this helpful:
    http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/transfiguration-of-jesus-christ-faq.htm

    All this is also why I find the modern-day trend disquieting to make Jesus into more of ‘just a man’ rather than His human incarnation as a necessary but temporary aspect of His mission. We are sinners and we could not handle seeing Him as He really is. He is eternally Lord of Lords and his glory revealed will demand a response from every single person one day, and it will be no different than that of the great men recorded in scripture, falling down in worship to their Maker, the King of Kings. I hope I am as ready for this as I ever can be, but the reality is I know without His shed blood that it would not even be possible.

    Mark Rabich

  • Thanks Mark

    Concerning the transfiguration, when the disciples encountered the meeting of Father and Son, we find this result: “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified”. Many more such reactions can be offered here. This holy terror of the God whom we serve is largely absent in today’s churches. We have reduced God down to our level, making him like us. This is the ultimate idolatry, making God in our own image.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • To Mark… one comment you made, needs restating.

    For indeed, his human incarnation is not merely “a necessary but temporary aspect of his mission”. It is now an eternal aspect of the second person of the trinity. He is the incarnate man, forever.

    Trevor Faggotter

  • Bill this is why we should be very skeptical about those that claim they have had a face to face meeting with Jesus, and I have heard quite a few. They come across so casual, almost as If they are the one doing the Lord a favor. Same with some superstars who make out they are having a conversation with Jesus and he is replying to them while they are preaching on the platform. It has so cheapened the living God and made him just like one of us.

    Maybe I shouldn’t say this but 23 years ago I had the experience of the presence of the Lord that words can’t explain and I can tell you it wasn’t exactly nice and there was no hole deep enough that I could crawl into because to meet that presence was to meet judgment and the only possibility (if one doesn’t run) is something has to die, and it did. Maybe that is why I have little tolerance for some things today that multitudes accept, but since that day appear to me as nonsense.

    I also think some of our music has contributed along with certain evangelistic methods. I have never been able to come to grips with clown ministries, It seems to me so out of kilter with what we should be about, but then that’s just me. I fear there are a lot more golden calves around today than we imagine.

    Rob Withall

  • Tozer often writes about the “awe-fullness” of God. A description that seems to have been a bit misplaced, so it was great to read this article. While what you wrote was great, I particularly liked the quote of Leonard Revenhill that you included, so I thought i would repeat it here in the comments (!!)

    “I’m sick to death of the so-called Christianity of our day. What’s supernatural about it? When do people come out of the sanctuary awed and can’t speak for an hour because God has been in glory there? Dear God, as soon as they get out, they’re talking football, or sports or something, or there’s going to be a big sale downtown somewhere. We are not caught up into eternity!” …… “Do you go to church to meet God or to hear a sermon about Him? How many come to church expecting a confrontation with Deity?”

    Peter Baade.

  • Thanks Trevor,

    I did a little bit of reading and you are quite right for correcting me on that. My apologies. In my mind I mainly had images of the slain Lamb from Revelation. This was helpful:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1552_jesus_humanity_now/

    Perhaps a better version of the paragraph should read “All this is also why I find the modern-day trend disquieting to make Jesus into more of ‘just a man’ rather than His human incarnation on earth hiding his full nature as a necessary aspect of His mission.”

    But thanks again.
    Mark Rabich

  • We may have let the ‘Comfort’ of His presence translate into ‘Comfortable’.
    Jeff Miskin

  • No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presence.

    Very true.

    Hilary Gilbert

  • I believe that evangelical Christianity needs to recapture the belief in the Holiness, Majesty and Power of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It could be a charge that Orthodox Jews level against Christians that we undermine God’s Majesty. There was hymn that appeared in the Australian Hymn book that began, “A man there lived in Galilee, above all brave and true” or words to that effect. I never sang it as I believe it is condescending to the Person of Christ, and made him out to be a political hero rather than the Saviour of the World.
    Wayne Pelling

  • Across Christendom I see a pendulum that swings over time between the “Abba Father’ crowd and the “otherness of God crowd”

    An emphasis on certain doctrine depending on the culture of the day has caused one to often be preached in importance over the other. I see however a need of both reverence and nose to nose fellowship as a vital part of our relationship. Just like in the natural order where there will be times where dad is to be obeyed immediately and others where laughter is found in his lap.

    Karl Barth was someone that rightly tried to correct the imbalance of the time and what happened was a again a reverse pendulum swing too far away. His teachings on the otherness of God and its mystery resulted some to go the path of thinking he was far, far away.

    In the Eastern Orthodox tradition “lord have mercy” can be chanted for hours, many of whom have no understanding & further many who think this is merely religious tradition, where the opposite is true; To remain on the narrow path and before the awe of His presence, one is able to grieve the spirit with the smallest of indiscretions.

    Great article I think it address’s the day well and keeps balance.

    Bill Riz

  • I agree with the above but. The worse kind of behaviour I have experienced has been in churches also the best kind of behaviour. I have had pastors that were atrocious and treated their congregation like dirt and idiots. I forgave the man because he was a gross disappointment. A continuum of condemnation on the church and it’s inefficacy will only make humble hard working souls bitter and want to throw in the towel. In today’s society everything is measured in numbers. I gave up on that crap years ago. My focus like the focus of many Christians is to be Christ like and have a testimony that is worthy of our calling. Yes we all fall woefully short etc etc. Yes the church is a mess, when was it not? The world is becoming more secular. It has been for centuries. The past was no better, church numbers and overbearing church leadership are no substitute for genuine desire for fellowship and Christian love. Has the church fallen of the wagon. Many have many have not. All this posturing about how we are not influential blah blah blah may make you feel good and will give us a stern wake up call to be more afraid of God. THIS MUST BE THE ANSWER!! Unfortunately it is not. Fear of the Lord is what keeps you holy but Love of the Lord is what keeps you serving. Doing more in my experience is not the answer. I deal with complex people that we need to give real answers. I have had many many supernatural experiences from God. They are great and I look forward to more. However, people have often lifetimes of indoctrination from society, their peers etc. Sometimes patience, consistent directed effort, empathy, compassion and friendship go a long way to reach someone. I don’t doubt that we can turn the world upside down. Are any of the authors of these articles responsible for any of this. I don’t think so. I know what I am responsible for in my immediate vicinity. Some battles are local some are global some are within the confines of your own life however big or small they may be. There are many Pauls in the world today. There are, just like there are many others that toil in obscurity. The idea that the visible is all there is – is simply folly. Just because a bunch of newspapers, media vultures, atheists, agnostics and even our governments turn against God. God who dwells in temples not made by hands laughs from his throne. Are things as they should be hardly. Things are the sum of many many decisions, some of which were in retrospect bad. Cultural decline has happened to every culture whether or not Christianity was in them. Roman empire is case and point. It decayed and was splintered in various chunks. Christendom thrived in its good times and in its bad times. In fact it is probable to say that Rome endured as long as it did because of the civic values that it inherited from Christendom. The west is still as part of our Christian heredity aiming to bring change in a positive way to the world. Many things are taken for granted which we have won and have yet to lose. We still have a voice though it may seem dim. If we are in the Spirit this voice will convict. It convicted me and it will convict others. Man in today’s society is also ignorant, isolated, overloaded, concerned and stressed. Nothing seems to last, relationships, economy etc. Sometimes simplicity is the answer. More does not mean better.

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