Wild God

I think that the general nature of Theology is one of wiggly-ness. “Theology” essentially means “words about God,” and in this Theology sets out to systematize and articulate our understanding of God by means of his actions and nature which are revealed in Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. This is practiced through the study of the truths presented in the Biblical text, Church tradition, while supplemented by ongoing revelation in the form of personal experience and reason.

Yet the very nature of God which one accepts to be true from tradition and scripture is a nature characterized by the incalculable. The nature of God is dynamic, powerful, unchanging and in some ways unfathomable; He is a mighty God whom we can intimately know, yet never FULLY comprehend. Try as we might, we grasp (sometimes pell-mell) for a concrete conception of an ever-revealing God. It is a quasi-impossible task, clutching at a “wiggly” aim.

As an individual in a Bible College I found this maddening in part. It is a study that doesn’t change, but it is never truly finished and demands so much more than my mind and my time; it demands my heart and soul, it involves the totality of my being. Lately, such thoughts have led me to understand God in a very certain way.

I think it is no secret that I have a love for the outdoors. I very much find peace, challenge, thrill and relaxation in the massive venue of the wilderness. I also think it to be no secret that I am a fan of C.S. Lewis, an author whom I first encountered in a land called “Narnia.”

In Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” a young girl encounters a fantastic world inside of a Wardrobe, which she brings her siblings to, and in doing so angers an evil Witch and awakens an ancient prophecy. In this allegorized tale she encounters a figure whom is the Lord/Creator of the entire world, whom is the Son of the Great-Emperor-over-the-Sea: a lion named “Aslan.” After hearing of Aslan (who Lewis presents as the allegorical embodiment of God) Lucy, the little girl who discovered Narnia, asks her friend Mr. Tumnus “Is he a tame lion?” to which Tumnus replies “No, but he is a good lion.”

Going forward I will assume that you have read (or are at least familiar with the story-line). In this simple answer we see Mr. Tumnus giving a revelation of a profound distinction, the inverse of tameness being a present wildness. In her curiosity Lucy asks a question “Is [Aslan] a tame lion” (as would be a suitable question posed by a child about any lion said child could potentially meet). Yet in Lucy’s query about “Tameness” is the seeking out of assurance that this Aslan will be predictably docile and safe. However, the implications of this assertion include some possibility that Aslan could be subjected to the expectation and command of another being. The initial nature of Lucy’s question is a query concerned with the level of safety in meeting this being. After hearing of this wonderful Aslan she is torn betwixt the wonder of an encounter with this mighty legend, but also with the fear of meeting a great, terrible, and very wild lion.

What Lucy asks is more concerned with her immediate well-being, but as we realize (as we grow-up) sometimes the healthy or “right” thing to do is not always the easiest or gentlest thing to do. For someone who has a broken bone, the most counter-intuitive maneuver would be for another individual to firmly grab the broken appendage and wrench it back into place; but sometimes that what it takes for an injury to heal correctly. Locking a person in a cage may not seem a good thing to do, but if that person were a violent and or greedy criminal it would be an act of justice for those whom were wronged, and prevention of future harm.

Mr. Tumnus responds in correction; while Aslan is by no means tame, he is not quite so wild as to not be considered good. Where Tumnus can give no assurance whether or not Aslan is safe and gentle, Tumnus does defend that Aslan is indeed “good” (and much more Aslan is revealed to be powerful, wise, and just). Aslan can be considered wild in the sense that he does what he will, he is accountable to no one, he can be very fierce and powerful; but whatever Aslan does, it can be trusted to be good. As we see later on in the story (and the series) Aslan does many things that seem odd, dangerous, and frivolous but ultimately that are purposed for good. Though Aslan may fail to necessarily be tame, gentle, and predictable, by no means are his actions of wildness and displays of power wanton or capricious.

Through these characters C. S. Lewis presents an important portrait of God (I do mean that some of these elements were purposed by Lewis, he was unashamedly known for allegorizing his stories). I equivocate “wild” with God in the sense that He answers to no one other than Himself, but that he is still very much good, which brings me to the very quote which prompted such thoughts in the haywire dome of my mind.

 “In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.”
John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 317.

Before I go any further I do want to qualify that it may seem like I am taking things out of context, I do not take the meaning of this quote to have been purposed for what I am extrapolating, but it does serve as a catalyst in provoking my own thought. That being said, in this quote I find that John Muir has made a statement that is unintentionally and theologically profound.

John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt

I say “unintentional” because John Muir grew up in a rigorously religious home, once older he turned to a new self-developed “Gospel of nature” and shunned the dark and judgmental gospel his parents acquainted him with; knowing this I can see that “wildness” is not a characteristic of God here, but the metaphysical entity of “nature” and Muir is stating the importance of nature to the human well-being.

Whilst beautiful, and a nice sentiment, the first phrase really caught my attention. “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world,” for on my first reading I saw the term “wildness” and initially I interpreted that as a characteristic of Yahweh.

The mere thought that the hope of the world could be contingent on the incalculability, power, and sovereign autonomy of God struck me as a worrisome proposition. Like Lucy, the thought of meeting such a wild and powerful entity justly incites concern. As I reflected upon this statement, something shifted and I warmed and began to take great comfort in this thought.

In the Old Testament we see numerous actions by God in the midst of his relationship with his people Israel; he makes many decisions and gives numerous rewards and warnings involving his people (some of which hold the consequence of prosperity, renewed covenant, or even the bane of death). I have heard many people in today’s culture who are taken aback by some of the “turn or burn” warnings throughout Scripture and the theology which is extrapolated from the “God of the Old Testament.”

Some people have much difficulty in bridging such a dichotomy between the call of God’s love through Christ (in the New Testament), and the seemingly flippant actions and impossible strictures of God in the Old Testament. Yet, these accounts reveal an immense meta-narrative of the redemption of humanity’s intransigence through God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, his continued covenant and relationship with Israel (Exodus - II Chron). Through several hundred years we see God and his people interact through right relationship; but there are certainly times where we see God’s people defect out of both ignorance and purposed disobedience.

In many of these instances we see God give stern warnings (through prophets,) even exacting calamity upon the world and the people of Israel as a consequence to their actions. But through the greater window of time we see the instances of God’s anger purposed and measured: his anger is never thrown about like the tantrums of a psychotic illness, rather, God’s anger is kindled to flame through the ignorance and selfishness of humanity, it builds and consumes those whom have trespassed against the prior warnings God gave, and is quenched as justice has been dealt and He and his people return to right relationship with him. This cycle of relationship–disobedience–warning–discipline is the engine through which a holy and loving God disciplines his children calling them to live better so that Israel might remain the people of God, living in God’s presence, to the ultimate purpose of the life, ministry, and sacrificial act of Jesus Christ which makes a way for ALL the nations to be able to experience forgiveness and redemption as they become the people of God to the glory of God (and is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis ch. 12 [conf. Romans ch. 1-6).

This Godly discipline proves to be a loving action which transcends “tame” gentleness and prima facie forgiveness but is a big-picture wildness which serves a fundamentally wild and “good” purpose. We see this in the culmination of Christ’s life and ministry which teaches us right and loving living; and ultimately in Christ’s death which makes a way for ALL NATIONS to be blessed and redeemed in to the people of God (Romans 1-6) just as God promised to Israel’s ancestor Abraham in Genesis 12.

This cycle of Godly discipline is also very wild in another sense, as Scripture also reveals many instances where he sends his prophets to warn his people of the disastrous consequences of their actions, but many times aligns these with promises of future redemption and healing: in one instance he sets himself up to exact destruction, but subsequently he promises to rebuild and heal the people he disciplined. Though counter-productive we see the invested actions of a parent, so very intent on doing what is right though rough and painful at times, but hopeful and motivated in an ultimate good.

Though much of this may seem good and well, above I have given only a brief and fleeting overview of the general structure of the history of the Bible as it regards the relationship between God and the covenantal people of God. The general structure including a holy and pure God whom being the sovereign creator of all that is, makes the rules and has decided to not live with sin (sin being the perversion of God’s good creation) and in his decision he cannot. What strikes me as particularly wild seems to follow such:

1: God sets up the Law to reveal that people are sinful and incapable to save themselves by acting perfectly.

2: As a result God acts to purge iniquity by means of discipline in his people so that he can maintain a holy relationship with his people*.
3: This maintenance of relationship is purposed to save his people.
4: The continued existence of his people atoned for and made holy through the sacrifice of Christ* and the ministrations of the Holy Spirit.
5: The 

* = God may decides to show mercy, and he is just in doing so as he is the arbiter of the Law.

How bizarre, that his love causes him to discipline us and yet he still is willing to show compassion and ignore his own ruling. He will not put up with sin but for how many years did he endure Israel’s sinfulness as they ignored repeated warnings? How often does he command that sin has no place amongst his people, but in love he endures and returns to heal then after his wrath is quenched.

We bear witness to a God so wild, autonomous, and powerful; but a God whose wildness is good and inextricably linked with his love for his children. A God holy enough to demand a standard for what his creation was meant to be, but loving enough, in some cases, to briefly disregard the standard, or prevent himself from exacting the standard, that he might win his people back to him.

Is Yahweh a tame god? No, but he is unmistakably a good God. Therefore I can say that I have reason to believe that within God’s wildness lays the hope of the world.

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