God is our friend.
Isn’t that amazing? After washing the disciples’ feet Jesus tells them that they’re his friends – several times, in fact (John 15:13-15). Jesus is our friend. God is our friend.
I was fortunate to grow up in a church that taught me about this loving God who wants to be my friend. And that is nothing but goodness for me… except that sometimes I can get so used to the idea that I take it too far. At some points in my life I have acted as though God was my teddy bear, a benign warm fuzzy, a good buddy.
But God is more than that.
God is the creator of the universe. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present. If we remember that God is God, we couldn’t possibly confuse God for a warm, safe teddy bear. Psalm 99 says God is a mighty king whose presence makes people tremble and the earth quake. God is so great that approaching God involves a dose of fear.
I saw something on my trip last week that reminded me of Psalm 99. I was on this golf trip with my dad and brothers, playing courses that ran along the Pacific Ocean in California. The shoreline there isn’t like the Gulf of Mexico that I grew up with; it’s crashing waves and big cliffs and huge rocks. At one spot in particular the four of us were so amazed, we stood still for a while before teeing off and watched the waves thunder in and sweep out again. It was so beautiful… and yet, it also made me a little afraid to watch it. We were at a safe distance, of course, but any human who got themselves down in those waters would be quickly killed. It was beautiful but completely unsafe.
We were in awe.
C.S. Lewis conjures up a similar feeling in his Chronicles of Narnia. These are children’s books about four kids who discover a secret world in the back of a closet; Lewis wrote them as an intentional analogy for the Christian faith. There’s a God-figure in Narnia named Aslan. Mr. Beaver reveals to the children that he’s not a man, but a lion. They respond with a very legitimate question when considering meeting a lion: “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe?” Mr. Beaver replies. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Of course Aslan’s not safe – he’s a lion! Lions are huge and powerful. They’re fast hunters and they have big teeth and claws. Good grief, how could he be safe!
But he’s good.
This is what our God is like. God is not a cuddly teddy bear; God is a roaring lion. When God visited with Moses on Mt. Sinai, Moses was so affected by the experience that it left his face glowing – and when the Israelites saw it, they were afraid (Exodus 34:29-35). When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain, he was transfigured to reveal his true divine identity as God’s only Son. As the cloud of God’s presence descended on them they were terrified (Luke 9:28-36).
God is your friend, yes. But God’s presence should also make our knees knock a little bit, like seeing waves crash against cliffs, like getting introduced to a lion.
Today, let us not forget that our God is not safe and easy.
But God is good.
All the time.