There is a delicate balance between just how safe God is and just how dangerous God is. And the same is true for religion.
One of my favorite contributions of C.S. Lewis is his representation of God as Aslan the lion in the Chronicles of Narnia. With this character, Lewis pulls off this delicate balance well:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
I’ve begun to realize that the very thing that gives life can also take it. You will last less than a week without water, but only a couple of moments if you’re drowning in it.
Or consider the story of God showing up on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.
In verse 8 God tells Moses to gather the people at the base of the mountain and to walk into the cloud that will gather there so they can see their God. Then God shows up, it thunders and the mountain shakes. And God changes God’s mind. Listen to God’s new instructions for Moses:
“Go down and tell the people not to break through to look at the Lord. For then many of them would be destroyed.”
The people needed God. But without the correct understanding of holiness, God would destroy the people before they could get what they needed. The very power of God will heal us—and destroy us. The very thing we need to cure us can also kill us.
Thus, the temple was developed—a safe apparatus for God’s holiness to reach the people without killing them. And that’s why in the Holy of Holy’s only a few entered, and only when necessary. God was good—but God wasn’t safe.
Of course, in the moments of Jesus dying on the cross, the curtain was torn. And now through Jesus, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.” Yet, maybe it says we should approach the throne with confidence for a reason—because maybe that’s exactly what is needed if you realize just how dangerous it is?
If we take one step further and talk about faith in God—or the act of living out a faith in God—it gets even more tricky.
Faith in God is both life-giving, and capable of being brutality dangerous.
All you have to do is look at the many different cults, fundamentalist groups, and religious manipulation within politics to see just how dangerous faith can be. While I’ve met many people whose lives have been transformed by their faith in God, I’ve met many others who still carry wounds created by this same faith.
I am a passionate individual. I want to give my life entirely to God. Yet when I look at some people who have “given their lives to God” some seem severely unhealthy, and do more harm in the world than good. How can I become fully committed to God without being a servant of evil?
Don’t get me wrong: I blame sin, not God. Sin is what makes us both so helpless before God and capable of corrupting our faith in God. Yet on this side of the cross, why is religion still dangerous? You would think that pushing someone towards the living water is always a good idea—so why does it sometimes produce anger and bitterness?
I think this happens for a lot of reasons, but certainly because faith makes us vulnerable. If you open yourself up to God, you can open yourself up to all kinds of dangerous realities.
Here’s my point: I see many today look at the dangers of religion and just assume it’s safer to be without it. They might say “I’m spiritual but not religious.” They are ok with their safe version of God, but not ok with living their faith out in God. Or in other words: “I don’t want to go to the river because people’s lives are ruined when they get lost in the river.”
Yet, I wonder if those who are avoiding the river for fear they might drown, are also those who are deeply parched for lack of good drinking water?
We are all thirsty for something.
So I am reminded once again: what is dangerous is also exactly what we need. So maybe discipleship is teaching people how to draw from the river in a way that won’t kill them? Or maybe dying is exactly the point? (Or maybe this analogy breaks down before the question is answered!)
I have started a strange journey. In an attempt to offer the Living Water in a way that doesn’t ruin people’s lives, I have started to read and think about the many ways religion has gone bad. I want to figure out how to take my faith as serious as possible without reaching the point that I am doing more harm than good.
As such, I am currently reading a book called “Crazy for God” by the son of Francis Schaeffer.
It’s a painful story of Frank Schaeffer and what it was like being raised in the evangelical fundamental world of the religious right and his journey out of it.
His father and mother were both passionate “professional” Christians—but their passion drove Frank from the faith. I’m determined to find out why.
So far, the book is a strange balance of grace, insight, and deep bitterness—exactly what you would expect from someone nearly destroyed by religion.
So as I reflect, I wonder what you think:
How do you understand the many negative and destructive forms of Christianity?
And how can we offer the living water without drowning people in the process?
How can we lead people to the mountain of God without them getting destroyed?
I appreciate your thoughts.