October 19, 2017

Another Look: Our Dangerous God

Nearly five years ago a friend of mine stepped forward in our Sunday morning service to share a message he had wrestled with for weeks. It was not a message he was excited to share, but knew that God was compelling him to do so. The word he shared that morning changed my life. God used this as a sledgehammer to shatter all that I thought was good and right in my life. This was the Master Potter taking the clay into his hand, squashing it, and starting over. The Potter is not finished with me yet—will he ever be before the resurrection?—and this word continues to be a tool he is using to shape me.

We often repeat the line that “Aslan is not a safe lion.” Of course he’s not. But how many of us actually want to encounter Aslan in all of his un-safeness? Aren’t we really more comfortable just reading about lions, then putting the book away where it can’t find us, claw us, scar us? We are much more at home with a safe God–-one who can be contained in Seven Secrets or Five Principles. One who wants to do nice things for us all day long, like keep the rain away while we hang out the wash. Do any of us really—really—want to meet God, as he knows himself to be, face-to-face? Do we want to hug a God who is an all-consuming fire?

God, it seems, has very little interest in making things comfortable and nice for us. Instead, he is intent on our freedom. As Robert Capon puts it, “What would you do with freedom if you had it?”

Here is the word shared in October of 2007 by Joe Spann to a congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Be forewarned: If you truly embrace this, your world will be unmade. I don’t say that lightly. Mine has been. Freedom is a very scary and dangerous thing.

“There seems to be a growing feeling that God is ok with making us uncomfortable.  In fact, I think He plans to. We worship a dangerous God and He is coming to threaten every area of your life. God is a loving God, do not be mistaken about that.  His love, however, is unlike any human love; its chief concern is not to make you comfortable, but to make you free. And to be free is dangerous and the act of making us free is dangerous.

“I am sensing specifically the danger of the nearness of God.  He is waiting in places you do not expect to approach you in ways that you think God shouldn’t and wouldn’t approach you. He is about to move in a way that will not allow Him to be a household idol on your mantel that you cherish and pass down to your children.  Your here and now will be changed by His presence.  If you want safety, then go back to your idols.  They get their name from you, they don’t change your name, they don’t move without your leave, and they will never threaten your comfort.  If you want safety, then go back to your idols but do not profess to worship the Creator of the Universe, because He will not be counted among your idols.

“He is about to become dangerous to your everyday trappings, dangerous to your comfort, dangerous to your retirement plan, dangerous to your schedule, dangerous to your social standing, dangerous to your secrets, and dangerous to your religion. The good news is, He is also dangerous to your limits, dangerous to your fear, dangerous to your addictions, dangerous to your sickness, dangerous to your unforgiveness, dangerous to the chains that bind you, chains that you have become way too comfortable with.

“The end result of this is that He wants to make you dangerous again; dangerous to your neighbors’ bondage, dangerous to the pain in the people around you, dangerous to the generations of abuse and pain in your family and the families you know, dangerous to the culture you are in every single day. And He wants to make us dangerous again. Dangerous to our neighborhoods, dangerous to our friends, dangerous to our culture, dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.

“God is about to overtake us, to leap from the shadows and subdue us, to wrestle us to the ground and change our names, and in the process to injure us forever. We will never be the same.

“Now, I grieve. I grieve because I am a rich young ruler and I am not so sure that I want this. I want it from a distance, but to actually be in the Presence of the un-nameable God seems increasingly dangerous.  So many of us are rich young rulers. We have our problems solved, our needs met. If they aren’t met at any given moment, an alternative other than God is there to meet them.

“It will truly cost us everything to follow Him. The fact that we have to ‘lose our lives to find them’ has been relegated to a cliche and sapped of its power for most of us. God is about to move in a way that will no longer allow that to be a cliche for you. That means that both the losing and the finding will be at a much deeper and more meaningful level.

“So what should be our response to this?

  • Brutal honesty. You may find yourself in situations in the future where you are not sure if it is God dealing with you or not because He has never dealt with you like this before. The best response is an honest one. Don’t pretend that you know exactly what to say to God—just be honest. But be prepared to wrestle all-night if you must.
  • If you respond honestly, then God’s work in you will be completed.
  • Recognize that He is a dangerous God.  Look for the God-boxes that you have built and tear them down.
  • Commit today to never pray another superstitious or insincere prayer. Your pretense dishonors Him and He doesn’t want it from you anymore.
  • He wants you to have a dangerous relationship with Him. Tell Him all the things you’ve always been afraid to say to God. Meet Him where you are and reveal yourself to Him in ways that you never have.

“This seems severe, and I want so badly to say something to make it more palatable. But I can’t. He comes now, and He comes in force, and He comes to threaten us, His followers, in every way.”

Comments

  1. Brilliant.

  2. Very well stated and put. This is something that I think often gets lost in our search for Him.

  3. Let me think about it. At first glance, this is such a “yes, but…” message, somewhat akin to the “evangelical machismo” messages I wrote about here: http://johanpdx.blogspot.com/2006/04/evangelical-machismo.htm

    The problem might be that the word “dangerous” is too vague and unstable a word to carry the weight this sermon gives it. It doesn’t take into account the audiences’ varied experiences of real danger. I suspect this sermon could only have been delivered by a man; it makes God sound a bit like a stalker. I’m not sure a victim of domestic abuse wants to trust a God who wrestles us to the ground. I’m not being dogmatic here; we all have our own wounds and losses that can be re-experienced by any number of references, and no preacher can slalom through all of them and still stay sane. But the word “dangerous” by itself still seems inadequate to me.

    I bet this sermon would be even more effective as a two-parter, the other part to be delivered on the theme that God is the only real safety.

    Blessings from Russia.

    • Correct. If someone has been traumatized by life, and is dealing with the psychological after effects, this is no message that is needed or wanted.

      • Tim, I have to disagree. I have been—and am still—traumatized by life. Yet I find great comfort in knowing God is dangerous, and that in his danger he loves me intensely. I want him to be dangerous to my fears, my hurts, my tragedies. I need the most dangerous of them all in my corner. It is the only way I will ever feel safe.

  4. I don’t think the right word is Freedom. Without certain constraints yes, but with more responsibilities … to be God’s image in dominion. A child is free to play and make mistakes; a grownup is expected to work, and there are consequences not just for yourself. Not pretending is a good idea.

    My teacher uses the image of a bird hatching. Before, the baby bird develops within the safety of the shell, carefully watched over. Afterwards, the adult bird flies away on its own. The transition must come at just the right time, it must be accomplished from inside and outside simultaneously, and it is always chancy. Now, does the baby know what it is getting into, or not?

  5. Thanks for posting this Jeff. It must be exactly what I was needing to intake this afternoon. I have been restless in my spirit all day, and for no good reason, and when I read this it resonated in me.
    This is my heart’s desire, to experience God as fully as possible in this human form. I read Jesus’ words to His disciples when He said the things they saw Him do and more they would do, and for all generations to come. He was talking about us! It is possible for us to experience God in that way, but man, it’s the hardest and scariest thing I have ever tried. I have to take extended breaks from my efforts quite often, so progress is slow so far. Dangerous is a good way to refer to this relationship. I forget where it is, put the scripture that says, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of The Living God. Indeed it is.
    I find myself coming back to elementary things that hinder me…sins of the past. How senseless is that, and yet it’s my reality. Some of the things I have done I can never forget…I have tried and tried. I know it’s about forgiveness, and I can accept God’s forgiveness, but can’t forgive myself….so far. I’m not claiming this as a given, but as a struggle up to this point. I was raised in church, daughter of a preacher, so I am very familiar with all the words of advice…give it to God and leave it there….as far as the east is from the west is how far God threw it when I confessed….I have the logic. It’s when something reminds me of a time and I feel that guilt and shame like it just happened. What to do with that I don’t know.
    I’m rambling here, processing my thoughts on what I just read for all here to see. I think I will stop abruptly and sit with it a while.

  6. If this message is true, isn’t God going to go after some of the sin in our lives, since the cost of it is so heavy?

  7. I found this incredibly interesting to read, but as an outsider, it left me wondering what the visible effect of embracing a dangerous God is. If you take to Joe Spann’s message and move away from a safe view of God, what changes in your life? How do your actions towards others and yourself change? How does your mental state, your philosophy of life change?

    I really like this idea, but I wonder how do you make it something more than full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

    • The simplest answer I can think of is that your actions, thoughts and life become more Christ-like. Your whole being undergoes change – things that mattered a lot matter less, and things that mattered less matter more. You realize that life isn’t about you, but about doing the will of God.

      ‘Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.’
      -Rich Mullins

  8. The sentiment expressed above is quite orthodox. It seems to acknowledge the difficulty of discerning the voice of God (and distinguishing it from other, less exalted voices). An interesting aspect is how this is to be reconciled with corporate Christian authority and tradition. Certainly most churches accept the possibility of personal revelation, so long as their own authority remains intact.

  9. “If you, then God will…”

    Hmm. Doesn’t sound like a God who is all that dangerous, to me.

    A dangerous God acts. Does His will, inspite of ours. That is a real God.

  10. Awanda Dejoie says:

    Since God is never described as dangerous in the Bible, I find it a confusing term. However, the message is excellent!

  11. “All is for the best
    Believe in what we’re told
    Blind men in the market
    Buying what we’re sold
    Believe in what we’re told
    Until our final breath
    While our loving Watchmaker
    Loves us all to death”

    – Neil Peart, from “BU2B” (Rush’s latest album, “Clockwork Angels”)

    • humanslug says:

      While I suspect Peart is referring to the way that religious concepts of God (even when He is theologically defined as loving) can become intellectual prisons, walls of division, and even justification for violence — I see a deeper truth in Neil’s words.
      Sure, God loves us — but before we can be raised to new life, we have to die to the old one.
      And because He loves us, He asks and encourages us to pick up the cross of self-death and follow Him to the crossroads where death and new life intersect in Him.
      But I can understand how even this could be seen as self delusion or psychologically unhealthy when viewed from the outside. At least, that’s how it appeared to me back in my nihilistic phase.

      • I’m glad you picked up on the nuance of what Peart is saying. The reason I posted this is that I see too often that discussions on “grace” can become a left-handed nihilism, i.e. God loves us and saves us unconditionally and irresistibly, and that everything that happens to us is somehow God showing how much he loves us – even if it kills us. Saying it is all “God’s will” isn’t saying anything at all. As Spinoza wrote (paraphrased), the “will of God” is the last holdout of scoundrels.

        I have a love-hate relationship with grace that I can’t resolve right now. I recognize that I cannot save myself apart from God’s grace, God invasion into my life. But I cannot square this with the concept of God’s sovereignty, which is implied in the doctrine of Grace, i.e. God saved us by grace by his choosing, not ours; therefore, we surrender control of the situation (God does what he does because He is God – a “loving” god no less. Again, to say that there is meaning in the unfathomable will of God is still a form of nihilism. I think this is why modernists resisted the doctrine of grace, because the universe becomes unpredictable and unknowable if God can – even by his grace – invade and cause the unexpected, even the terrible. I have to believe there is a compatible view of grace which retains the “I” and “Thou” relationship with God, rather than reducing us to an object of grace (which in turn reduces God to an object). I hope that makes sense.

        • humanslug says:

          Sure, I think I understand what you’re saying.
          And while I still love to build logical and theological constructs to play with, I’ve pretty much given up hope that God and the universe and humanity are ever going to fit neatly or entirely into any logical matrix.
          As far as grace is concerned, maybe it’s not nearly as theologically complicated as we try to make it. Maybe God’s grace is merely a matter of a good Father choosing to cut His beloved children some slack because He loves them and because (through Christ) He can.
          At the end of the day, I’m just a man who was once dying of thirst in a dry and desolate land — and, in Christ, I have found a spring of living water. It really doesn’t make any sense, bubbling up out of the cracked, sun-baked dirt like that. I have no empirical access to its source, so I can’t really know where the water is coming from. I don’t have any testing equipment, so I don’t even know if it’s safe to drink. Heck, I can’t even know for certain that it won’t dry up and disappear thirty seconds from now. And, truth be told, I can’t even be sure that the sun hasn’t cooked my brain, and the spring is just a hallucination.
          All I know is that this looks like water, feels like water, tastes like water, and that it has quenched my soul’s thirst and cooled my troubled mind like nothing else I have ever encountered. And, for me, that’s enough. It may not make perfect sense or be fully understandable, and passing desert travelers may stop and laugh at me for stuffing handfuls of sand in my mouth — but I’m not about to stop drinking from this well.
          To paraphrase C.S. Lewis: We are free in Christ as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not still free to be dry.

          • What the slug says works for me. I am saved by grace through faith, even though I pray,”Lord forgive my unbelief. I am moving towards Jesus, even though I go one step forward and two steps to the rear at times. That is all I have, and it is enough.

  12. Adrienne says:

    If you look at most of the better known Bible characters you see a human picture of today’s post. Once God entered their lives their security was gone. From the command to Abraham to get up and go to, the Israelites journey in the wilderness to Jonah’s harrowing whale journey to Mary’s secure, routine Jewish family life to Paul’s Pharisaical pride to John’s exile on Patmos. Once Jesus came into their lives they were never the same. But every one of them was free – how I can relate to today’s post!! Freedom is my greatest gift and I thank God every day for it. I am not “safe and secure from all alarms” – God alarms me.

  13. In my own life, I’ve found a consistent pattern, where whenever I start to lean on something for my security, such as a certain person, my job, my circumstances, etc., God has a way of kicking it out from under me one way or another, and bringing me to where I need to rely on him. I’m not saying I do this at all well–I usually do it kicking and screaming–but I’m hoping to decrease the kicking-and-screaming phase in the future. This has been one of the ways I’ve experienced God as being “dangerous” or challenging.

    By the way, Joshua, great quote by Rich Mullins!