Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God: A Nuclear Blast or a Protective Bubble?

If you read my previous post, you know that I have been running from God.

Last week, I met with a spiritual mentor of mine. Although I gave some intellectual reason for meeting with this man, I could not ignore the nagging fear lodged in my heart. At the time of the meeting, I was incapable of coherently discussing anything lofty with him. I finally broke and out gushed my broken relationship with God.

How do I view God? I described Him as the sun or a nuclear blast; something huge and destructive. If He get too close to me, He will envelope me and I will fry.

We are instructed to fear God. But the Bible also describes another characteristic of God: Love. Somewhere along the way, I seemed to have misplaced this in my understanding of God.

My mother told me a few days ago that I seem to be believing in the God described solely by the Old Testament; rather than incorporating the Incarnate Son of the New Testament. I have to admit that this is true; I find it easier to wrap my head around the Old Testament descriptions of יהוה . Plus, it probably doesn't help that I was in the middle of reading Jeremiah: "O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed" (20.7).

Anyway, my mentor told me to ask God to show me who He really is--since it seems that my view of Him is faulty.

It is difficult to do that kind of thing--especially with Jeremiah's words ringing in my ears--and a variety of doubts plaguing my mind.

Just last night, I realized how much I feel my views pulled in opposite directions. I keep seeing two sides of God, and I struggle to connect them. Where is the middle ground? Is God some kind of hybrid of the two (in that humans have jumped to extremes)? Or does He miraculously hold two sets of seemingly opposing character traits?

I decided to read through Hebrews yesterday--figuring something in the New Testament would be more along the lines of what I needed; rather than Old Testament fire-and-brimstone. But--silly me--Hebrews is full of warning passages about falling away, and it includes many references to the Old Testament. I was especially frustrated with this line: "for our God is a consuming fire" (12.29). Great--this seems to only confirm my fears. Thanks, God.

Needless to say, I finished Hebrews in the same stand-off-ish place that I had begun.

Enter: this morning...

I came across this in God Calling (I am sure I have stated before that I struggle with this book to begin with, but I am determined to stick with it): "Keep close to Me and you shall know the Way because, as I said to My disciples, I am the Way. That is the solution to all Earth's problems. Keep close, very close to Me. Think, act, and live in My presence. How dare any foe touch you, protected my Me! That is the secret of all Power, all Peace, all Purity, all influence, the keeping very near to Me. Abide in Me. Live in My Presence. Rejoice in My Love. Think and Praise all the time. Wonders are unfolding."

The general thought process after reading anything out of that book: I am horrible at this--all of it. I didn't feel peachy after reading that.

And yet, there was a small voice, which asked: Could you possibly envision God as a protective bubble--that still envelopes you? But instead of frying you, it keeps you in your own skin and protects you from harm outside?

That small voice was quickly countered: "for our God is a consuming fire!"

I had to go back to Hebrews. This time I read the whole section over. I will record it here in ESV, which is what I initially read it in:

"For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (12.18-29)

Now, to be honest, I didn't understand what I was reading at first. I couldn't get past the references to "blazing fire," "darkness," "gloom," "fear," "judge of all," "blood of Abel," "shook the earth," and "consuming fire." Honestly, with my focus on those words--rather than stepping back from my emotional response--I felt the whole section reinforce my feelings.

But--thankfully--something kept tugging at me: what if you are missing the point?

I tried the passage in the NASB translation. No better; they are both literal. So I drifted toward a more dynamic version: New Living Translation. This provided a better view of what I was reading:

"You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.' Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, 'I am terrified and trembling.'
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: 'Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.' This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire." (12.18-29)

I realized I had been missing a lot in my emotional response state (for Hebrews is exactly the book I needed to be reading).

The author is setting up a contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, which most likely represent the old covenant and the new covenant--the covenant of the Old Testament versus the covenant prophesied in the Old Testament and realized in the New Testament. And what is the differing factor between them? "Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people."

The author points out that God is still God. The "devouring fire" statement at the end is a reminder of Mount Sinai. However, we are covered in the blood that speaks of forgiveness rather than vengeance.

Therefore, God is both a nuclear blast and a protective bubble. Under Jesus's mediation, I am protected. I get to experience God at Mount Zion; rather than Mount Sinai. But--as the third paragraph points out--if I reject Jesus, I am subject once again to the nuclear explosion, and I will be fried.

Looking back at the rest of Hebrews, the author goes to great lengths to prove Jesus's supremacy as our High Priest before God.

Can I trust Him?
Can I trust Jesus?

The Holy Trinity is One. Jesus is just as much the character of יהוה as the fire-and-brimstone God of the Old Testament. God holds himself in perfect balance. Yes, He is a nuclear blast; but He is also a protective bubble. It is up to me which I will choose to experience Him as.

The Way has been laid out before me. Will I follow Him inside of His bubble? Trusting that He will preserve me in His Love?

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