When it comes to fantasy fiction, I happily enter into the world of make-believe. But when I behold the fires of Mordor or the magical, shifting stairways of Hogwarts, my sense of awe is stunted by reality. Fear, suspense, and wonder stay within the boundaries of my imagination, rarely going so far as to affect my heart rate or weaken my knees.
I recently accompanied my children to a Star Wars event. A group of professionally costumed characters from a galaxy far, far, away streamed through the double doors and I smiled as a jedi, stormtrooper and TIE fighter passed by. Last, and nearly seven feet tall, draped in a powerful shade of crimson from head to toe, a member of the Emperor’s Royal Guard lumbered forward with a heavy presence. I felt myself retract a little and adjust my posture.
The character stood grimly in the corner of the room, gripping his electro-staff with authority and staring through his impenetrable helmet. I felt small, and even though my brain told me this was all for fun, I couldn’t help but be a little intimidated. I had the presence of mind to be more amused than terrified, but admittedly, it took me a few minutes to warm up to that corner of the room.
The response this character evoked in me is how the Bible describes men and women in the presence of God.
God is no fantasy fiction character.
I realized I should revisit my understanding of who He is.
Scripture is full of accounts that bear witness to the mentally and physically stunning nature of an encounter with God. You’re likely familiar with Joshua falling face down before the commander of the Lord’s army (Jos 5:14), and Moses, who hid his face when God spoke through a burning bush (Ex 3:6). You’ve read of Saul crumpling to the ground when he sees a flash of heavenly light (Acts 9:3-4), and the prophet Daniel’s days of bedrest after receiving a divine vision (Dan 8:27). These instinctive human reactions should give us pause.
We think ourselves familiar with God’s glory and majesty, but are we thoroughly affected by the reality the Bible conveys?
If angels have the signature greeting “Fear not,” because their presence causes people to be very afraid, imagine how much more this will be true before the almighty God! Job seems to grasp it rightly as he contemplates beholding God in His fullness:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives…whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”Job 19:25-27 (emphasis mine)
At the very thought of seeing God with his own eyes, Job’s heart is fainting within him! Have you contemplated the grandeur, power, and holiness of God to this effect? Does His presence reach beyond knowledge? Or have you mistakenly shelved God beside Tolkien and Lucas?
In The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, Susan is slightly alarmed to learn that the great King Aslan is not a man but a lion. “Is he— quite safe?” she asks, “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”. I suspect we will also be surprised to learn the conclusions we’ve drawn about our King fall short. Have we fully considered the prospect of an encounter with the living God? I imagine it will be quite like Susan’s experience when she and her siblings behold Aslan for the first time:
“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.”
Have we grown too comfortable—too chummy—with God? It would behoove us to reexamine our assumptions, for where there is reverent fear, there is wisdom and obedience (Hos 6:1-3).
Is He good? Most certainly. But He is also dreadfully other-than, and I suspect we are unprepared.
The next time you get up close and personal with a fantasy character in full costume or experience an epic theme park ride—when you feel that momentary knot in the pit of your stomach and your muscles tense slightly, imagine that you’re not imagining. An increased heart rate and sweaty palms will not be the effect of a green screen or good costume design. Face to face with the God who established His throne outside the universe and knows the intimate thoughts and motivations of your heart— how fully then will His words come to pass:
“Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.”Isaiah 45:23-24