“… holiness is in wild and furious opposition to banality and blandness, The God-life cannot be domesticated or used – it can only be entered into on its own terms. Holiness does not make God smaller so that he can be used in convenient and manageable projects; it makes us larger so that God can give out life through us, extravagantly, spontaneously. The holy is an interior fire, a passion for living in and for God, a capacity for exuberance in the presence of God. There are springs deep within and around us from which we can drink and sing God”
Eugene H Peterson “The Jesus Way”
We try to domesticate God.
Those of us in Christian circles have more than likely heard the phrase, “You can’t put God in a box,” but it hasn’t stopped us constructing infinite varieties of theoretical and theological containers (creeds, dogmas, tenets, doctrines, articles of faith or whatever you want to call them) in order to try to render God, and those who follow Him, contained.
In our culture – both ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ – in our understanding, in our attempts to relate to the utterly untamable and unrestrained life that is God we automatically, unthinkingly reduce God to a manageable size. Or at least to a size we are happy dealing with. A size we can control.
We may have different sizes of God, depending on what mood we’re in, or what we want from God on any particular day. We might well have pictures and images of God that seem to range from a pale version of Santa Claus – old man with long beard who gives out nice things to good boys and girls, but somehow without the fun – to a Fire and Brimstone spitting judgemental psychopath bent on handing out one way tickets to Hell – who in my mind kind of looks like Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments … I don’t know why …
None of the pictures are right. None of the sizes are correct. None of our images are the real likeness. But we still try …
Perhaps it comes down to control. Back to Eugene Peterson again, for another quote, “If we have a choice, which we do, of dealing with God or an image of God, we much prefer the image. An image of God is God customised to our requirements … The image is a god with all the God taken out of it so that we can continue to be our own gods.” (The Jesus Way … again). If we can create for ourselves an image of God that restricts His access to all areas of our lives – so that He only gets to see the nice stuff we want to show Him on Sundays (“Look, God. Look how nice I’m singing! Look how rosy-cheeked I am with enthusiasm!! Look how my offering envelope weighs down the bag!!! I’m a good boy, aren’t I God?!!) then we don’t have to worry too much about the stuff we’d rather He didn’t know about – the shadows we like to withdraw into and the darkness we find there. If we can partition off areas to control what God gets to see and what He gets to do in our lives, we stay in control – we call the shots – we pay the piper and expect God to dance to our tune.
The problem is that God isn’t going to dance to our tune.
There’s an idea, established fairly early, within Christian thought of something called perichoresis or the “divine dance” to describe the relationships within the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit – the idea expressing that Father, Son and Spirit ‘dance’ harmoniously around a common experience and centre of divine mutuality and love (see, I went to Bible College, I did!). Now, whether or not there’s some kind of three handed waltz, foxtrot or tango going on or not, I’m sure that God isn’t dancing to our tune – He is the tune.
We just like our song, our dance, better. Even though it isn’t a good tune, and we all dance like our dads at a family wedding!
Or, maybe if we’re being generous, it might not be about control. Perhaps the desire to re-size God is partly a way for us to try to understand Him, to work out what He wants from us, a way for us to relate to Him. But, the thing is, He’s quite upfront about us not really having a chance of understanding Him – for instance;
“… my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
Or Job Chapters 38-40 – which is basically God saying, “Do you have any idea of who I really am, just how omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and generally full of omni-ness that I am?”
The general feeling I get is that God isn’t necessarily that interested in us understanding Him all at once, of us dissecting and deconstructing Him using some religious Haynes Manual. That would defeat the point of building a relationship, which is what He wants.
Let’s see if I can imitate Paul the apostle and use an illustration from marriage to explain a little …
I’ve been married nearly twenty years and I’m still finding out amazing and wonderful things about my amazing and wonderful wife – when I got married to my wife there were lots of things I didn’t know about her. I didn’t know she hates frogs, I didn’t know that she didn’t realise that when I was talking about the greatest football team in the world I meant Liverpool and not Brazil. I didn’t know that she’d be a fantastic mother, or that she’d love me through bouts of ‘black dog’ depression, that she’d encourage me when I was down, that she’d pick me up when I fell over (metaphorically and actually!). I’m sure that she could probably say similar things about the stuff she didn’t know about me when we first married. In short, as our relationship has grown and endured, we’ve both found to things about each other that we might not have expected at first, things that bring us closer together every day. I love my wife more now than when I married her, there’s more about her than a white dress and wedding vows however lovely the memories, we have a history of love now that we add to daily.
I’m believing and hoping that it’s like that with God too. The more we get to know Him, through Jesus, through the Spirit, through Scripture and through a myriad of shared experiences, the more we’ll discover of His love. And, we’ll never fully understand or come near to the limits of that love if we’re content to rest with a neutered image of God, an understandable and controllable anaemic little ‘god.’ No, we’ll only get near the experience of a love that is so much greater than we think , a love “as high as the heavens are above the earth” when we let God break free of our desire to control Him and compartmentalise Him, when we let Him get thoroughly UN-domesticated, when we allow Him to get raucous, when we let Him inspire and indwell us – so that He “makes us larger so that God can give out life through us, extravagantly, spontaneously” then we can “drink and sing God” together.