Fire and Water
What has happened to my image(s) of God? As I mentally rehearse my images of God I quickly discover reoccurring themes of kindness, niceness, tenderness and caring. My favorite name for God is Emmanuel (God with us/me). As I think about my favorite name for God and how I tend to image God, I wonder; what have I done to God? I believe these things (kind, nice, tender, caring) are true of God but I feel also as if I have blown them out of proportion and have created a caricature of God who is somewhat recognizable but in a comedic sort of way.
As I ponder all this and reflect on the images of the God of the saints and mystics and reflect upon the words of A.W. Tozer, “ A person cannot rise beyond their image of God”, I become concerned about my walk with God. It is evident that there is something very empowering or limiting about one’s image of God and I am fearful that in my life my image of God has become a limiting force rather than an empowering and transforming force.
You see, two of the images of God I have grown accustomed to are the images of God as a cozy fire and as a refreshing spring rain, a place of comfort, refreshment, care and tenderness. God is a place I run to in times of trouble, exhaustion and loneliness. God is a friend, one who is always there, always with me – kind, caring and tender. Although all this is true, I realize I have a God who I have tamed and subdued with my images.
As I look at my twin images of fire and water through the eyes of the women and men (saints and mystics) who have walked the journey of faith before me, I see something quite different.
They view God not as one to cozy up to with a good book and a glass of wine (substitute grape juice for wine if this troubles you), but as one who blazes forth, enveloping them in the white hot burning of God's holiness, challenging, shaping and transfiguring them from the inside out. God is not a cozy fire God but an all-consuming inferno God who engulfs them within the roaring fire of transformation.
I also do not readily find in their writings my spring rain God who gently waters and refreshes their thirsting souls. No, for them, their God is a deluge, a torrent of rain, a monsoon, a hurricane with winds of epic proportion bringing destruction and mayhem to their lives, with the resulting impact taking days, weeks, months, even years to process through as together they and God sift through debris, rip out walls and eventually begin the gradual rebuilding process.
My images of God as gentle, tender and refreshing, although found in the writings of the saints and mystics, do not take center stage and when found, are dwarfed by the portrayal of the magnitude of God's awful power. There is a fierceness, a wildness, a Divine madness to their God of fire and water. Yet, this truth did not cause these women and men to run away in fear but drew them to God, for they intuitively knew that this was the way to life everlasting. They ran to God, knowing that in the midst of the blazing fire of God's holiness and the torrential downpour of God's grace and love was the cauldron of transformation, a place where the death that would lead to life happens, a place where the doorway to the abundant life Christ offers would open before them. These women and men ran into the frenzied fire of God's presence knowing it would be terrifyingly awful but also believing that God knew what God was doing and that this was what they most deeply desired, hungered for, sought after and needed.
These men and women were not content to live near the fire but chose to enter the white hot center of this blazing inferno, welcoming the burning torment of God's fiery presence. As I consider my tender images of God as a cozy fire and a gentle spring rain I am confronted and troubled by my insipid and tamed Divine images. As I ponder the dichotomy between my images of God and their images of God, disturbing questions arise within me:
Have I domesticated God for my own comfort and
Has my making of God into a gentle, kind, nice, tender and caring companion subdued God's wildness and retarded my own transformation in the process?
Have I gutted out the heart of God and made God into something God is not, something of my own creation?