We were invited out to dine at an up market restaurant. It was all ‘a la carte’. When the menu came one course included crocodile and my wife’s immediate comment was “Crocodile! I am afraid to order that”. Whereupon the African waiter, with solemn expression, leaned forward and said, “It is dead, Madam”. When we go to worship God is ‘on the menu’, in fact he is the ‘main course’, but I wonder, as the opening hymn is announced, though we are spiritually hungry, for how many would the waiter’s comment be appropriate. There was a period in theological debate when the secular press carried the announcement “God is Dead!”
In the Bible we meet one writer issuing a word of warning ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb.10:31). When we turn to another writer who is desperate to meet God, ‘My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God’ (Ps.84:2) What extreme reactions – one is scared, the other is eager. With which would I identify most?
Let’s imagine you have read an article or book about some high profile person who clicks all the boxes of achievement and personality you admire. You come across a photograph of that person in a magazine, cut it out and pin it up somewhere prominent. You hear of a movie featuring that person’s activities and successes so you order the DVD for your collection. It becomes your favourite movie – delighting, inspiring, and motivating you to become like the one you admire. Then one day, to your astonishment, you receive an invitation to spend a day in their company. You are ‘over the moon’ with excitement. You simply cannot wait to meet them in person; be near them, see them, and talk to them. It becomes, as they say, “A dream come true”. When we cry out for God, is it such a meeting we want?
I once heard Dr Colin Morris, an energetic, dynamic Methodist minister and speaker say, when we gather in worship to meet God we should be wearing protective clothing and a helmet. He clearly made the point that God is no jovial, indulgent Father Christmas, but a dynamic power who can blow our mind, dramatically change our life, and control the entire universe. The bible presents both the immanence and transcendence, the intimacy and remoteness of God whose being is beyond our imagination, beyond all description, measurement or comparison.
In our scientific, technological age, if we are to bear a credible witness to our belief in the existence of God we have to keep in mind the expanding, evolving universe, the complexity and mystery of the microscopic life forms and the continuing evolution of life itself is all under the control of God, the Un-nameable One, who is involved in the whole process. Awe, silence, wonder, and a deep sense of unworthiness is an appropriate response.
However, we are not confined to isolation, or held at a distance. The repeated, strident message of the bible is – God comes to us. God embraces us – this very moment. God accepts us even when we are unacceptable. God searches for us like ‘a woman with a lost coin’. The God of immeasurable power, is controlled by the power of his love. George Beverley Shea, Billy Graham’s gospel singer, expressed this truth as he sang, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hand, He’s got you and me in his hand’. We are small, but not lost in this immensity and Mystery beyond our understanding.
What started my thinking was a passage from Elizabeth Johnson’s book ‘Quest for the Living God’. She writes ’A word about the phrase “the living God”. This way of speaking runs through the bible from beginning to end to identify the Source of life as dynamic, bounteous, and full of surprises. When they entered into the covenant, the people of Israel “heard the voice of the living God” speaking out of the fire at Sinai (Deut.5:26)…..Christians, too, now included in the ancient promise, understand that they are “children of the living God” (Rom.9:26) thanks to the marginal Jew Jesus Christ, “the Son of the living God” (Mt.16:16)’ She then adds ‘the term “the living God” evokes the realization that there is always more to divine Mystery than human beings can nail down. It prepares those who use it for astonishment’.
When we assemble for worship, or turn to prayer, or read the bible, – this is the God we are turning to. Are we prepared to be astonished? As I think of God let me keep the Hubble telescope’s images of the planets and galaxies alongside the New Testament’s image of Jesus on the cross. Let me recall the Invisible, Intangible One who said ‘Let there be light, alongside the visible, tangible Father who ‘when he saw his son a long way off ran and fell on his neck and kissed him’.
‘This, this is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as great as his power,
And neither knows measure nor end.’