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.