“Humph! You couldn’t raise much wheat here.”
So spoke Mr. Wutzke, a North Dakota farmer, as he gazed into the Grand Canyon for the first time. Having been raised on a Nebraska wheat farm, I can imagine one of my stoic ancestors saying the same thing. After all, if the land can’t produce grain, what value does it have?
What was wrong with Mr. Wutzke’s statement? It was true. Unless there is something going on in the bottom of the canyon that I don’t know about, I doubt that the Grand Canyon has ever sent a bushel of wheat or corn to market.
So even though the farmer’s statement may have been factually correct, it was the wrong response. I know, because I have stood almost breathless on both the north and south rims of the Canyon. The sheer majesty and splendor is almost disorienting on first glance. I don’t like overusing the word, but I think awesome fits very well here. Mr. Wutze’s view was too small for the occasion.
The same is true when we minimize, or worse, ignore the attributes of God that make us uncomfortable. To make God into our image is to make Him safe. Comfortable. Even cuddly.
Recently I met my acquisition editor from Moody Publishers. Drew authored a book, Yawning at Tigers, that deals with many of the same concerns I share in my book, God in His Own Image. In a chapter titled “The God Worth Worshipping,” Drew shared an illustration from the early church leader, Gregory of Nyssa. Comparing contemplation of God’s nature to standing at the edge of a sheer cliff with no foothold, Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
The soul…becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is natural to it, content now to merely know about the Transcendent, that it is completely different from the nature of the things which the soul knows.
Drew writes, “When it comes to God, we’re all beginners.”
Last week I described Moses’ first impression about God at the burning bush. Remember also the response of the people as they stood on the foot of Mount Horeb waiting to meet God and hear His voice for the first time. To borrow words from a movie title, Moses and the people felt “a clear and present danger.”
I wonder, do we? Or, have we created our own safe version of God?
When we gather for corporate worship is there a sense of anticipation? Do we come with fear, respectful in the right sense of the word? Do we anticipate an experience that is extraordinary—even transcendent? That will only be true if we acknowledge God in His own image.
Just for a minute or two, let’s consider another man in the older testament who had a personal introduction to God. His story, in his own words, is recorded for us in Isaiah 6.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
I know it’s difficult—and maybe even impossible—but try to experience that scene in your mind’s eye. The nation was grieving the death of a godly king. And then, in a moment of time, Isaiah suddenly saw the living God, the God of Abraham, seated on a high and lofty throne. Perhaps that describes one dimension of God’s holiness. He is separate from everything in all creation. In other words, other worldly. The train on His robe “filled” the temple—no skimpy Hollywood prop. The seraphim, gloriously bright angelic beings, recognized God’s transcendence and humbly covered their face and feet while calling to each other responsively, “Holy, holy, holy!”
So if you even felt a tinge of Isaiah’s experience, what was your response? But wait! (Sounds like one of those TV commercials pushing some great one-time-only deal if you call in the next sixty seconds.) The plot thickens. Listen. “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
Now what is my response if I had been there? I am certain it wouldn’t be something bland like, “You can’t raise much wheat here.” Nor would I be singing a song with all the potentially offensive terms like holy or wrath or blood deleted.
Hear Isaiah’s response as he lay sprawled on the floor: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
Paraphrasing in contemporary language, “I’m dead meat. I have a filthy mind speaking filthy words and living among filthy people just like me. I have seen the King! The king who is the Lord of hosts.” I wonder why I don’t feel like Isaiah when I try to pray or when I enter the worship center on Sunday?
Why don’t I anticipate experiencing an authnetic encounter with the living God? Why do I seldom feel the need to confess my filth?
Maybe one of the reasons people feel burned out or “done with church” is because we have lost the sense of awe over God’s holiness and transcendence. Some have said the reason fewer men than women attend church is that the church has become feminized—safe and predictable. I wonder what might happen if we had to put up warning signs saying “Caution, you are about to enter the presence of the holy God. Management is not responsible for injuries from falling off your chair.”
Yes, I’m joking. But, what would it be like to experience God’s presence—His transcendence—and to sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit making repentance and confession a natural response! What would it be like to leave the church building realizing, not just in my mind but experientially, that I have been forgiven—cleansed and my sin atoned. I would then be prepared to exclaim, “Here I am, Lord, use me anywhere you want.”
Is that impossible or is that true Spirit-driven-revival?