The Provocative God – Introduction
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
Then I said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Isaiah 6:1-5 NASB
What ever happened to a God who was bigger than our wildest imaginations, more grand than our greatest accomplishments, more perplexing than our deepest scientific theories? What ever happened to the God Isaiah trembled before, certain that he would literally be undone by the very presence of such overwhelming holiness and majesty? Whatever happened to that God of mystery, of power, the God before whom we were compelled to fall on our faces and declare; I am ruined?
Nearly sixty years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, “Your God is Too Small”. It was an attempt to stem the growing tide that viewed God as a being we could fully understand and with whom we could be totally at ease. In essence it was an attempt to keep us from putting God in a box that we could control and open and close at our own discretion. Phillips wanted people to understand that God was far more than the comfortable caricature that many had made Him to be. Certainly He is a God in whom we find comfort and peace. But He is also a God who at times challenges us, befuddles us, provokes us out of our comfort zone into a wild and wondrous relationship with Him. Sadly from the look of things, Phillips failed badly. For many people, Christian and Non-Christian alike, God has become even smaller, more manageable, subject to our ever changing and shrinking notion of what He is like and what He can and even should do.
What is desperately needed is a God who is anything but tame and controllable. We need a God who shakes us out of our malaise. We need a God who provokes us. We need a Provocative God. In our highly sexualized culture the word “provocative” normally brings up images of the window at Victoria’s Secret, or worse. For something to be provocative it simply needs to get a reaction out of us. You can certainly be provoked sexually. But you can also be provoked into action because of the injustice of human trafficking. You can be provoked to anger like Jesus was when confronted with the thievery that was taking place in the Temple in the name of God. (Luke 19:46) You can also be provoked into breath-taking wonder when standing at the pinnacle of Pikes Peak gazing out over the snow capped mountains below. You can be provoked into a state of confusion and bewilderment when your preconceived notions smacked in the face by overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
If we really understood God we would know that He is nothing if not provocative. God says and does things that should get some kind of reaction out of us. The very fact that God declares, “My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8 NASB) should tell us that our encounters with God should be provocative. They should provoke us to think and live in ways we had never before considered. Or if we had considered them, we too easily discarded them as unreasonable, uncomfortable or unnecessary.
When we look closely at the Bible, not simply skimming through, or looking only for the proof text that makes us feel better, we are confronted by a God who said and did some rather radical, extraordinary, strange, disturbing and at times frightening things. They are things that challenge us and make us uncomfortable and at times confused. They are things that we often ignore because the implications of what God has said or done are implications we don’t want to face. But face them we must if we are ever going to have the kind of relationship with Him that God intends. We need to face them because those who would oppose God point to these provocative statements and actions and twist them into accusations against God.
It is my hope that what you are about to read provokes you. Sometimes it will cause you to wonder at your view of God and hopefully cause you to reconsider and maybe even discard the box you have Him in. Sometimes it will cause you to repent of attitudes and actions. Sometimes it will cause you to have a better understanding of what God expects of you. I know I have had all those reactions and more. Certainly there will be things you read that you disagree with, maybe even passionately. I’m okay with that. In fact I am more than okay with it. I welcome it. Because that means you are engaging with God on a head and heart level that will result in God being bigger in your life than He was before and your relationship with Him being deeper than ever.
The subtitle to this book about our provocative God is; Radical Things He Has Said and Done. The word radical has been thrown around a lot lately. David Platt has written a very popular book by that title. The media refers to radical fundamentalists of various religious stripes. On the political scene the far left and right are viewed as unreasonable radicals who are threatening the democratic process. And when we think about radical things that God has said and done, our first thoughts most likely concern things that are far out on the extreme, unreasonable, on the edge of rationality if not over it. That is not the understanding of radical that this book presents.
Let’s take a look at some dictionary definitions of “radical”
rad·i·cal [rad-i-kuhl] adjective
of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.
thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.
favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms:radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
forming a basis or foundation.
existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.
1 footnote; From dictionary.reference.com
Of the five definitions given for radical as an adjective, only numbers two and three fit the common usage mentioned above. Numbers one; four, and five collectively define what I mean by radical. Something that is radical is something that goes to the root or core. It should come as no surprise then that we get the English word Radish, from the root word for radical. No pun intended but it makes the point. Something that is radical should be something that is at the root, heart, core, and foundation of who and what we are.
In speaking of a radical God, what we are really talking about are things that God has said and done that should be at the root of who we are and what we believe. They are things that as definition five says, are “foundational” to who God is. If they seem radical by our common usage, meaning extremist, then it is not because these things are on the edge and we are at the core. Rather, the radical things God has said and done seem extreme because we have moved far from the root and core of who God is and who He has made us to be. We are the ones who, in our modern and post-modern world, have moved far from the root. We have moved far from the core of where we were created to be. We have drifted ever so slowly to the extreme edges. It is like my friend Pete Geiger sings in his song Hallowed Ground. “We’ve wandered so far of track we didn’t know that we were lost”. God is still at the center. We are on the edge. We have wandered far off course in our thinking and our actions.
God seems extreme in so many ways because our self-centered perspective has the world revolving around us. We all see ourselves as average, middle of the road, stable and reasonable. When God does things and says things that are consistent with His character, when He is radical in the foundational sense, He seems extreme and outlandish to us. We grow uncomfortable with this extreme, radical God. So we marginalize and ignore Him and become functional agnostics. Some of us become angry Atheists who cry out against a God we don’t even believe exists. Some of us turn our back on our radical God and remake Him in our own image. He is safer that way. We can control and understand such a god. But such a god is no God at all. Such a god is a tame, manageable, cosmic security blanket, who never meddles in our personal affairs and never challenges our self-centered thinking. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, such a god is “safe, but not good”. We need a God like Aslan who Lewis describes as “good but not safe”. We need a God who will pull us back to the root, the core, the center of who we are made to be.
The God of the Bible is much like the majestic Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, who is strong, powerful, demanding, yet gracious, sacrificial, and merciful. Instead we have a God who is the lion from the movie, Second Hand Lions. He looks like a lion, seems powerful and frightening, initially provoking fear, only to find out that it is an old, worn-out, tamed lion, who just wants to lay in the shade and eat dried lion food from a bag.
Make no mistake. In the Bible there are lots of very uncomfortable things that God has said and done. Asking you to forgive someone seventy time seven when they sin against you is extremely provocative. Requiring you to love your enemy, the person next door who constantly blares their music at all the wrong times, shoots of fire works till well past midnight on every conceivable holiday, and lets their trash blow into your yard, is radical and provocative. Saying that the only way to get to heaven is through a relationship of faith and trust in Jesus Christ is as counter-cultural as you can get these days and provocative in the extreme. With these and many other things that God has said and done, we have softened them, reinterpreted them, explained them away, and outright ignored them. In doing so we have attempted to tame our provocative God. But he refuses to be tamed. His Word stands for all time and continually calls us back into a relationship with Him that is unsafe, and uncomfortable, but is good beyond our wildest dreams.