It stormed the other day in central Indiana. The clouds were layered in multiple shades of gray, ranging from off-white to nearly charcoal. It made me think of the picture at the top of this newly-redesigened blog, although today’s skies were much less dramatic than they were the day I took this photo (which, aside from the quote, is unretouched). The storms here can be much more violent than where I grew up, but the upside is how beautiful the clouds can be. Beautiful, but scary; kind of like God.
Which brings me to my favorite quote in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series – well, actually, I think it’s just about everyone’s favorite quote. When the Pevensie children first hear about Aslan, they are surprised to learn that he is a lion.
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“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.”
– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe
Not safe. But good. The King. The sovereign Lord who is always good, even when He’s more than a little scary. We can trust Him completely, but we dare not presume that He is a pushover. For even though He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8), He is still the Holy One, the righteous judge (Psalm 7:11; 2 Timothy 4:8), and “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
I think one of the reasons God does not appear to be “safe” is that He’s far more concerned about our holiness than He is about our happiness, and our character is far more important to Him than our comfort. (I’m sure those phrases are not original with me, but I can’t dredge up the source from my middle-aged memory.) God is relentless in this regard; He’ll stop at nothing to shape us into the image of Christ. And that’s a scary thought, at least to me, because I’ve experienced a little of that relentlessness.
Every year our ministry runs a summer missions project for college students, and one year we decided the project theme would be “whatever it takes.” We soon learned that God would not let us teach something we could not live out. The sacrifices of time, effort and energy required to pull the project off that summer pushed us all to exhaustion. Knowing it was no coincidence, our team joke became, “Next year, our theme’s gonna be ‘peaceful, easy feeling’!”
It was definitely not a “safe” summer, but it was a good one. Lives were changed–the lives of our students, the lives of those who received Christ through their ministry, and the lives of those of us who taught, mentored, and administrated the project. Even though I was physically and mentally drained, probably more than I had ever been before, the reward of seeing God change us all was well worth the sacrifice.
Relentless. Beautiful, but scary. Not safe, but good.
This is our God.