What is more important to you, safety or goodness?
“Ooh!” said Susan… “Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”CS Lewis – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver;… “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The idea that “good” might not be “safe”, and that “safe” is not automatically “good” comes as a surprise in today’s safety-conscious world, where safety has become synonymous with universal good. CS Lewis, however, had encountered the God of the Bible and used this experience to form the character of Aslan, the Lion-King of Narnia. The fact that so many children, and adults too, have been absorbed in, and enriched by the complex characters portrayed in his Narnian tales suggests that his characterisation describes a reality that resonates in human hearts and minds.
The writers of the bible, present us with a God who they are struggling to comprehend, let alone describe or interact with in a positive way. That we are able to know anything of this God at all, is much more down to his choice to reveal himself to us throughout human history, than it is to our ability to describe what he is like.
We know of ourselves, and the people we know well that we are complicated creatures, capable of great things and of messing up in the same moment. Our greatest heroes, lifted on a pedestal one minute and disgraced by misdemeanor the next. It is not that we are strong or weak, wise or foolish, bold or fearful, it is that we are all of these things and often at the same time.
If we are complex then so must God be. Paul, who wrote many letters to the early church, urged his friends in Rome to consider both the kindness and the sternness of God, attributes we rarely consider together these days. Paul also found supernatural strength given when he asked God for healing. For him, physical healing never came, but he learned instead to rely on God’s power, which somehow was made ‘perfect’ when combined with his own weakness. He knew that whenever he felt weak in himself God’s power enabled him to find strength and contentment even in the face of hardships and danger.
And yet, something within our human hearts strives for simplicity. We are designed to discern patterns and spot symmetries in everything around us. Scientists search for a single theory to explain everything, while news reports contract stories to concise captions, and yet we know that this world is complex and humans are complicated and I for one, am glad that this is how things are.
Our strive for simplicity often extends to include our vision of God. The gospel writer we know as John wrote in a letter that ‘God is love’, and perhaps out of our fundamental need and desire to be loved, we are tempted to simplify God to just these three words. The Bible reveals that it is true that the God who made us has loved us since we first bore his image and walked this earth, but it also reveals that there is so much more to him besides. If God is only a loving God then the complaint, ‘how can a loving God allow this to happen?’ may stand unanswered, uncontested, undermining even belief in his existence. But if this God is also holy, just, righteous, merciful, and more complex than our inadequate minds can comprehend then perhaps we have more reason to take him seriously.
And what about ‘safety’ and ‘goodness’? The Bible writers had a different view of fear than we do today. They recognised that it was possible to love and fear God at the same time. Just as a sailor loves being at sea, but knowing how dangerous it can be, fears the power of the ocean. Or how a rider can be passionate about horses while at the same time being fearful of what they can do when startled. The sea, horses, lions and so many other things can never be called safe, but we love them just the same.
The writer of Proverbs declared that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Sadly, we often think of fear in the context of an abusive relationship, but when the one we fear is also good, it is maybe wise to think again. The fear that thinks of running away from God, is an unhealthy fear. True fear of the Lord comes with wisdom and the realisation that you cannot run from him. Wisdom tells us the only sensible option is to run to him, because he is good, because he is merciful and because he is gracious.
God may not be ‘safe’, but I know that he is good. If you have not yet met him, may I encourage you to seek him out? It may be a scary prospect, but I can assure you that it may be the wisest thing you have ever done.