Waves and shadows (Paradoxology) – Don’t be afraid…because it’s scary

Contradiction

When I wrote “Waves and Shadows” I made two starkly opposing points. In Part 1 I suggested that God aims to get us standing on our own two feet.  In Part 2 I suggested that God calls us to depend on him and on those he has put around us.

Having seemingly contradicted myself, I wanted to bring the two together here. Of course, at one level each of the messages helps avoid taking the other to extremes. Our call to live in a state of interdependence is not a call to retreat into a cosy enclave. Our call to get out and do God’s work is not a call to self-sufficiency. But there’s another unifying factor…

 

Christmas concerts

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It’s a time of year that parents and teachers know well. This week our household will see no fewer than five Christmas plays and concerts. Fragments of songs are being merrily sung and scraped on the violin. Costumes are being prepared and tinsel cut up for stars and angels.  Ah yes, angels…

As folk attend schools and churches over the coming weeks, they will hear the cute little angels echoing three words that many of us have heard so often that we will simply ignore them. Three words that echo the words of the angels two thousand years ago. And three words that reverberate through thousands more years of God’s relationship with people:

Do Not Fear

 

Bombshells

“Do not fear” is one of the most repeated phrases in the bible. Why? Of course, it might be because God likes us to have a constant warm, fuzzy, glowing feeling. But the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. With Mary, with the shepherds and with scores of others, God tells us not to fear just when he’s about to drop a bombshell.  He tells us not to fear precisely when it’s about to get terrifying.

Shepherds, do not fear: I want you to abandon your posts.

Mary, do not fear: I want you to risk social disgrace, your marriage and your future.

And throughout the history of his people the message keeps repeating – Do not fear: defy your family. Do not fear: take on occupying forces. Do not fear, do not fear, do not fear…

And the only reason not to fear is that God has told us not to.

 

Safety

Society sells us a dream of safety. We, God’s Toddlers have largely bought into it. We believe the life worth fighting for is one where we’re safe, secure and risk free. God’s way is different. God’s way isn’t safe. By any normal measure it’s scary. Those who have read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe may remember Mr Beaver:

Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘course he’s not safe. But he’s good

So, to go back to the question of what standing on our own two feet and depending on others have in common, I’d suggest it’s that they’re both terrifying. For most of us, standing back on our own two feet after we’ve allowed God to pick us up is a terrifying prospect. It’s not safe.  For most of us, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and depend on other people and on God is a terrifying prospect. It’s not safe.

God calls us to both with the reminder “Do not fear”. And to any number of daunting prospects, with the reminder “Do not fear”.  Not because what lies ahead isn’t scary, but because it is, and he’s there regardless.

 

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Angel photo (Original version) © Gardner Campbell  

© Text 2013 Paul Brownnutt

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Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Today’s post is brought to you by all of the above Bible verses

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The beautiful flower of God, and the Wendy house

The Wilderness

Estate agents are famed for their creativity when advertising a house.  “Within walking distance of shops” assumes your name is Ranulph Fiennes. “Purpose built” reminds you that yes, the apartment is part of a lifeless block of identical shoeboxes.

And when I eventually come to sell this house the estate agents will, with a similar level of creativity,  describe it has having a “well-proportioned garden”.  This is because they are not used to including the words “wilderness” or “jungle” in their advertisements.

When to care about crocuses

God's beautiful flower

The beautiful flower of God

Now, Oliver recently ventured into the “wilderness” I refer to, carrying a spade.  Presently he returned to show us a flower-bulb he had found.  You may already know that I cannot tell a daffodil bulb from a crocus bulb from a daisy bulb.  OK, I actually do know that daisies don’t come from bulbs, but that’s about as far as my expertise goes.

So I asked Oliver what flower it was.  With a simplicity I could never hope to replicate, he replied: “It’s the beautiful flower of God”.  Which made me realise what an idiot I had been to care whether it was a daffodil, a crocus or a daisy.  It was beautiful, and it was God’s.

Defences

Off trudged the intrepid Oliver into the wilderness once more, and for about twenty minutes I caught occasional glimpses of planks of wood being dragged to and fro.  Eventually he came back in and announced that “The beautiful flower of God” was safe.

Closer inspection revealed that the wood had been used to fortify what was originally a Wendy house of sorts, with the beautiful flower of God inside. Each door, each window and (for good measure) the roof had been carefully covered with a series of planks of wood.

Now the invading barbarian hordes would never harm the beautiful flower of God inside.

“That’s a shame Oliver,” I commented. “Now nobody can see how beautiful it is.”

Barricades

If you believe popular culture, you’d think God’s toddlers see it as our mission in life to erect similar barricades to seeing the pure, unalloyed beauty of  God.

I don’t think this is genuinely the mission for most of us, but whether it’s my mission in life, I know I struggle allowing God to stick up for himself.  I can cling to the layers of interpretation that the church has built up over two tedious millennia of theology – valuable though some of it may be – rather than risk approaching God (and his word) directly.  I can insist on explaining a sanitised version of God to friends, rather than risking them trampling my flimsy assumptions about him.

A comparison to Oliver’s defences is imperfect, as God isn’t as delicate as either a daffodil or a crocus (or, if you must, a daisy).  Protecting God is more like protecting a rosebush.  Or perhaps a man-eating lion.

But the point remains that in allowing myself (and others) to risk questioning assumptions about God; to discover him directly and let go of the barricades we treasure, I stand more of a chance of discovering the beauty behind the rotten planks of wood.

 

© 2012 Paul Brownnutt

 
Creative Commons License
Being God's Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.