Category Archives: Mornings with Owen

The Unsafe God

 

Recently my daughter and I finished up the second of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia novels, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In that volume, there is a striking dialogue that leaves us with one of the more memorable statements about the lion, Aslan, a Christ-like figure who is king of Narnia.

The scene is a discussion between a little girl named Lucy, her sister Susan, and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.  Lucy and her brothers and sister learn that a figure named Aslan is king of Narnia and has been awaiting their arrival.  As the details unfold, Lucy learns that Aslan is not human, but a lion, which brings up a whole host of questions and thoughts for her.  The movie does not capture the scene well, however below is the dialogue from the book

Susan: “Is Aslan 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 just plain 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? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Because Aslan is portrayed as a Christ-like figure, it’s not difficult to make the parallel with our Lord.  As my daughter and I read this section, it presented a teaching moment that like Aslan, God is not safe, but He is good.

What do we mean by making such an assertion?

First, by saying He is not safe, we are asserting that there is something that makes Him unsafe.  It might well be easy enough to say that His omnipotence makes Him unsafe, or perhaps His omniscience.  But this is not what is chiefly causing God to be unsafe.  It is His holiness.

The Lord God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16), in the splendor and majesty (Ps. 104:2) of His holiness, with a garment of glory (Job 37:22), the beams of which radiate to all His creation.  As Stephen Charnock writes, “if God had a body more luminous and glorious than that of the sun, he would be as well visible to us as the sun, though the immensity of that light would dazzle our eyes, and forbid any close inspection into him by the virtue of our sense.”  The holiness of God is both the premise and starting point of man’s recognition of his sinfulness as well as the platform for growth in the knowledge and understanding of God.  True personal holiness cannot even begin to be an aspiration apart from reverence to the One who calls men to be holy (1 Peter 1:15).

In addition, as the Apostle informs us, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”  When we allow our minds to dwell upon this, we must come to rest in the fact that by light we do not mean simply a 60W light bulb, nor do we necessarily mean the sun as we may enjoy it on a summer day.  No, we mean infinitely purer, infinitely brighter than the brightest sunnny day, as Charnock alluded.  We mean an all-consuming fire.  A light so pure and holy that for man to stand in its presence he would simply evaporate.

When we see this in application from such passages as Moses at Sinai, Isaiah’s vision, Ezekiel’s vision, etc. it underscores this reality and from it we can better understand that we cannot simply demand nor presume an audience with God.  It is His holiness that lends itself to saying that God is unsafe.

Second, by saying He is good, we are assuming that by virtue of His holiness, God is not simply unrestrained fury against all sinfulness.  No, by way of His goodness, God is merciful and has allowed the medium, through which His mercy should flow, to be His only begotten Son, specifically through faith in His Christ, who gave His life on the cross for sinners.

If God were only unsafe, then He could not be trusted.  But because He is likewise good, we know that He is just and will always do what is right.  Therefore, though we may tremble at the majesty of God we know that He has created the means by which we may enter into His presence.

I fear that modern evangelicalism is far too much like those who approach God without fear, whom Mrs. Beaver says are either brave or just plain silly, and I do not think we have an overabundance of bravery.  It seems as though the majority of evangelicalism over the last century have fashioned in their minds a god who is both safe and good.  But this is not the God of Scripture.  As God reveals Himself, it is clear that His holiness is a defining characteristic that influences all else that we know about Him.  This attribute of God demands we view Him with awe and reverence, or what is biblically known as fear of God.

Fear of God is a pervasive theme in Scripture from commands given to Israel in the Old Testament, Deut. 6:24, to the familiar Proverbs, Prov. 9:10, to our Lord’s birth announcement, Luke 1:50, and His second coming where unbelievers will call out for rocks to crush them in order to be spared from the wrath of the Lamb, Rev. 6:16 (Luke 23:30).

Writing on the issue of godly fear dominating our meditations, John Owen (vol. 7) writes,

There is scarce any duty that ought at present to be more pressed on the consciences of men than this of keeping up a constant holy reverence of God in all wherein they have to do with him, both in private and public, in their inward thoughts and outward communication. Formality hath so prevailed on religion, and that under the most effectual means of its suppression, that very many do manifest that they have little or no reverence of God in the most solemn duties of his worship, and less, it may be, in their secret thoughts. Some ways that have been found out to keep up a pretense and appearance of it have been and are destructive unto it.

But herein consists the very life of all religion. The fear of God is, in the Old Testament, the usual expression of all the due respect of our souls unto him, and that because where that is not in exercise, nothing is accepted with him. And hence the whole of our wisdom is said to consist therein; and if it be not in a prevalent exercise in all wherein we have to do with him immediately, all our duties are utterly lost, as to the ends of his glory and the spiritual advantage of our own souls.

Our thoughts of God cannot be allowed to morph into viewing God as a safe, cuddly kitten.  He is after all more like a lion, though a good lion.  This statement about God being both unsafe and good is a balancing one that maintains the tension between God’s absolute purity in holiness and His condescension in goodness to provide a way of salvation from His wrath.  This can only be fully realized through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

My personal prayer is that my heart would daily grow more in the fear of God.  That it would act both as a restraint against sin and the propellant to proclaim the word of God with boldness.

Suffering and Glory

 

Within God’s holy, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient Word there runs a biblical theme as wide as the Amazon and as deep as the Mariana Trench.  This theme concerns the humiliation and exaltation of Christ Jesus, or more simply His sufferings and glory.  We read of this in numerous passages including those below.  Take a minute to read through and meditate upon them:

“the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” 1 Peter 1:11

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Luke 24:26

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Hebrews 2:9-10

Commenting on this grand theme, John Owen writes, “So much as we know of Christ, his sufferings, and his glory, so much do we understand of the Scripture, and no more. These are the two heads of the mediation of Christ and his kingdom, and this is their order which they communicate unto the church, —first suffering’s, and then glory.”[1]

If we observe the sufferings and glory of Christ throughout Scripture and meditate deeply upon the significance, namely that the King of Glory condescended to take upon Himself human nature and suffer at the hands of sinful men all manner of abuse and reproach (let us not forget the propitiation of God’s wrath) yet His reward was the satisfaction of the Father and exaltation of His name above all others, we will be better equipped to endure the sufferings that mark our path in this life knowing well that glory too awaits us.

2 Timothy 2:12a KJV “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him”

Conversely, if ever we are consumed by the attractions of this world and submit to the “desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), we will be all too ready to embrace glory in this life thus reversing the order of the trail that Christ has blazed for those who would follow Him.  Far too often we can observe those who would chase the temporal glory of this life only to see it fade before their eyes.  Some who would be so desperate to either return to that glory once achieved or resigned to avoid humiliation and suffering, they often attempt to manage their own escape; as was evident most recently with the departure of a famed actor, failing to realize that apart from Christ, this life is their glory and only destruction and judgment await them in the next life.

For the believer, we must constantly be aware that suffering is to be expected.  As the Apostle Peter reminds us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Perhaps most notably we may turn to Romans 8 and find an anchor for the Christian soul during times of suffering so that we may receive grace and encouragement in our time of need, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18ff  Sufferings and glory.

Concluding then with a final thought from Owen:

“When the sun is under a total eclipse, he loseth nothing of his native beauty, light, and glory. He is still the same that he was from the beginning,—a “great light to rule the day.” To us he appears as a dark, useless meteor; but when he comes by his course to free himself from the lunar interposition, unto his proper aspect towards us, he manifests again his native light and glory. So was it with the divine nature of Christ, as we have before declared. He veiled the glory of it by the interposition of the flesh, or the assumption of our nature to be his own; with this addition, that therein he took on him the “form of a servant,”—of a person of mean and low degree. But this temporary eclipse being past and over, it now shines forth in its infinite lustre and beauty, which belongs unto the present exaltation of his person. And when those who beheld him here as a poor, sorrowful, persecuted man, dying on the cross, came to see him in all the infinite, uncreated glories of the divine nature, manifesting themselves in his person, it could not but fill their souls with transcendent joy and admiration. And this is one reason of his prayer for them whilst he was on the earth, that they might be where he is to behold his glory; for he knew what ineffable satisfaction it would be unto them for evermore.”[2]

As with our Lord, so also with us, we must embrace suffering to taste glory.

Soli Deo Gloria – For the Glory of God alone



[1] John Owen, Volume 1 The Glory of Christ, page 343.

[2] Owen, pg 344