I was preaching on Isaiah 6 this morning and a passage from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe came to mind. It’s the part where the children find out that Aslan is a Lion, not a man.
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” siad Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just 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? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
It got me thinking about the images of God that are popular in our culture, and if we are honest, in the Church as well. Sometimes people imagine God as an angry punisher, ready to annihilate anyone who doesn’t measure up by hurling lightning bolts down from the sky. But I don’t think there’s much of a danger of that in our culture today. Maybe in the middle ages, when people were fascinated with hell and purgatory, but I don’t think there are many people today who imagine God in an overly wrathful way. I think the opposite is more likely the case. We tend to think of God as completely tame, endlessly tolerant, and entirely safe.
I think sometimes we imagine a domesticated God. Of course domestication is a term we use in relation to animals. We domesticate our pets. In other words, they are house trained, so they can fit into our lives and our routines and our homes, without causing too much of an interference. Our pet dog stays on his leash. He stays behind the fence. He is safe. He brings us comfort when we need it but at the end of the day, we are the master, we are the ones in control. We imagine a domesticated God when we think that God can be kept, safe and contained behind the fences that we have built for him.
Another imagined God that we encounter today is a Santa Claus God. You know Santa Claus only exists for the purpose of bringing us gifts. That’s the sole reason for his life. All year long everything he does is oriented to that one special night when he jumps in his sleigh and flies around the world, eating cookies and milk and making little boys and girls happy by bringing them the things they asked for. Yes, it is true, he’s making a list and checking it twice, but it seems to me he is pretty indulgent, and bring nice gifts even to kids that you would think would be on the naughty list. We imagine a Santa Claus God when we think that God is only there to give us what we want. When we think that the fact that we’ve been good little boys and girls means that we should get everything we ask for.
We could probably think of many other “imaginary Gods.” One more that I’ve seen is the personal assistant God. A personal assistant’s role is to help their boss get through their day. They might go for coffee, they might pay parking meters, do dry cleaning, do secretarial work – and if you are a very busy person then I can see why a personal assistant would be of great value. Their job is to make your life easier. Sometimes we put God into that box. We think he is there to “help get us through our day,” whatever that means. I heard someone once saying that they were praying to God for help because they were having a “bad hair day.” I think they wanted a personal assistant God.
These are all safe gods; they are tame, they are domesticated, they are always pleasant, friendly, and unobtrusive. These tame gods are not the God of the Bible. They are not the God of Isaiah chapter six.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty,
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.