download (4)Recently I discovered what I should do if I were to encounter a bear in the wild.

* If the bear is close to you, back away slowly. Never run.

* Act calmly. Move deliberately, as if you are not alarmed. This will help to calm the bear, too.

* If you are in a group, bunch up, or join other hikers nearby.

* If you are carrying pepper spray, get it ready, just in case.

* Speak to the bear in a normal tone of voice. This helps to identify you as a human and satisfy the bear’s curiosity.

(The Official Parks Canada Visitors’ Guide)

The underlying premise of the above instructions is that bears are dangerous. They need to be approached properly. It seems we are more afraid of bears than we are of God.

I think of how we saunter into the presence of God Sunday after Sunday. I think about the kind of songs we offer to Him.

Often we offer what my friend Leon calls “God is my boyfriend” songs. Forgive me Kutless fans but when I hear lyrics like the following, I blush. ( I know they do good Christian rock stuff.)

“You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause no one else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace
Help me find the way to bring me back to You

You’re all I want
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near”

“To feel the warmth of your embrace?” Are you nuts? Do you think you can embrace the Divine Flame and not be fried to a cinder? What were you thinking? Compare how the biblical saints respond to encounters with God.

Isaiah becomes acutely aware of his sinfulness and think his destruction is imminent. (Isaiah 6:1-5)

Ezekiel falls face down on the ground. (Ezekiel 1:1-28)

Daniel faints, his face to the ground. (Daniel 10:1-9)

Moses is given specific instructions as to how he is to approach God — He is to take off his sandals as a mark of holy fear and submission. (Exodus 3:1-6)

In the totality of biblical revelation, we learn that God is also our Father (Matthew 6:9) and our friend (John 15:15). But as Jesus Himself points out after He washes the feet of His disciples, He is friend, but He remains Teacher and Lord (John 13:13).

A lonely and fatherless generation wants to draw near to God. They crave intimacy. But on their terms. And they run the danger of idolatry, drawing close to a god of their own making.

Miroslav Volf is but one of many voices who warn us of the dangers of confusing God with our images of Him. He warns us that:

“But in fact our images of God are rather different from God’s reality. We are finite beings, and God is infinitely greater than any thoughts we can contain about divine reality in our wondrous but tiny minds. We are sinful beings, and God is different from what we conceive in our selfishness and pride.

Finite and self centered as we are, we often forget God’s warning through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (55:9).

When we forget that, we unwittingly reduce God’s ways to our ways and God’s thoughts to our thoughts. Our hearts become factories of idols in which we fashion and refashion God to fit our needs.” (Free of Charge, p. 22)

Recently I had the opportunity to thank a lecturer that had blessed me so much in my time in seminary. I was in my late 20’s then. He was in his fifties and had a number of successful pastorates before becoming principal of a theological college. He was an excellent teacher but what shocked me was how he treated me — he treated me as a peer when obviously I was not.

His condescension was encouraging and empowering. It was used by God to help me gain confidence about life and about ministry. I was touched that he reached out to me as a peer precisely because I knew I was not.

We will never appreciate what it means that God “came down” (Exodus 3:8) unless we realize how far that journey was.Yes God is a welcoming Father (Luke 15:11-32) but He is still the Wholly Other. He is both. Any intimacy that forgets His awesome holiness and majesty is an encounter with an idol we have made in our own minds, and not an encounter with God Himself.

In the end a God who is intimate but not big is of not much comfort. As I write this piece, I am very aware of so much need — growing racial tensions in my own country, a number of friends fighting cancer, fresh violence in Lebanon, etc, etc, etc. I need a God big enough to take all these and more in His stride. A “boy-friend” God isn’t nearly big enough.

And so daily I ask God for grace to fight the idolatry of my mind and my heart. I continually allow Scripture to edit my images and thoughts of Him. Periodic retreats to places of natural beauty helps. And so does good literature. C. S. Lewis is always helpful:

[of Aslan]
Mr. Tumnus: He’s not a tame lion.
Lucy Pevensie: No… but he’s good.

God is wild and dangerous. Approach with care. But He is also good.I feel loved in the embrace of this God. I feel safe entrusting the world, and my life, into His hands.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan