Saturday, December 16, 2006

The God Who Is Never In The Middle

The biblical account of God's relation to Man tends to two extremes - the God who is close and intimate, sort of the God Next Door, and the God who is impossibly far, huge, and powerful - the Sky-god. We miss some of them in our reading because we don't see things from the perspective of the human characters, but from our own perspective, reading the book and knowing the whole story.

When we picture Adam in the garden, we have just come from the story of this mysterious huge thing that created worlds and lights and oceans, and we miss what Eve saw. Adam & Eve don't seem to have much awareness that Whoever it is they are talking to is in charge of much more that just Eden, some animals, and them. He is a very intimate god and quite local. If He is more powerful than they are, He doesn't seem to be so intimidating that they don't dare disobey. A traveling snake-oil salesman is enough to get them to disregard the one they call Lord. This seems to be a Lord of the Manor, or Lord of the Waterfall, not the creator of the universe.

The theme continues throughout the OT. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a pretty local guy. Only occasionally does He remind that He has a side to him that they keep forgetting about. David, Moses, and the Prophets all have some fairly chummy conversations with the Almighty. Yet even they - God's pals - are shown glimpses of His hugeness that stagger them.

Jesus's arrival is very much of the intimate sort, visiting shepherds, walking around telling stories, going to wedding receptions. But even in this homey story there are sword-strokes and fiery darts - sudden comments by Good Old Jesus that open out onto bottomless chasms, reminding them they He walks in worlds they cannot imagine. These are reported often enough that one gets the impression that they were frequent. But as they always seem to surprize His friends, they can't have poured from Him uninterruptedly. The Christ, the Messiah, spends most of the time praying and teaching, but they were used to people like that. Then once a day He does or says something that drains the blood from their faces or confuses them so completely that they are reduced to asking questions that now look dumb (Easy for us to say. We wouldn't likely have done better in their sandals).

Jesus comes back and eats some fish, then ascends in one of those sky-opening, hide-your-face deals that reassure his followers He Is. Really. In John's letters, which we were studying recently, the apostle keeps calling his hearers children, not to belittle them, but to remind them of their intimacy with him, and with God. Children inherit. Children get hugged. John had another aim, drop-kicking the Gnostics who were claiming that they were the real inheritors because they had learned all the secret code-words. He was stressing that it was the regular humble Christians who were God's children, not the toffs. But he could have gotten that idea across without that level of intimacy. Choosing that image was no accident.

A few pages later, Jesus is coming on a cloud in one of those freeze-the-flesh-off-you moments where hordes of folks die and mountains get thrown around like pebbles. All in preparation for his settling down and being king on a throne, where everyone can drop by and see Him.

Never in the middle. God never seems to be medium-big, or medium close. He is either so close and chummy that we drop our guard and forget who He really is, or so huge and dangerous that we draw back in fear. Or both together, interwoven in an impossible braid. But never medium-size, medium distance.


Dubbahdee said...

How could a god who is immeasurable, unlimited, omni-everything in every sense be otherwise. Of course he would appear extreme to mere mortal flesh. I'm sure that the angels thought the whole concept of the incarnation to be extreme. What's even more amazing is that He combines these extremes into one package. Ultimate wrathful and absolute mercy altogether. yet it's not like He is bi-polar. He is certainly all this and more, all at the same time. He is meta-polar, beyond polarity.
This is why I love the line in "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" where one of the children asks of the beaver regarding Aslan, "Is he safe?" The Beaver responds something like, "Of course he is not safe. But he is good."
YAHWEH is at once the most dangerous one, and the safest sanctuary.

Ben Wyman said...

It does make sense to me, now, that God could be so chummy and hide his bigness. We need to both fear and love God, but we have trouble doing both at the same time. I guess God lets us take turns.

Anonymous said...

The middle ground is the territory of idolatry.

Dubbahdee said...

Well said Civil.
I have heard it said that a mark of mature personality is the ability to hold two seeming opposing concepts, which are both nevertheless completely true, in your mind at the same time, and accept them both. A lot of God stuff seems to fall into that category. So does a lot of stuff about the world we live in.