As a kid, I had a pile of stuffed animals. In fact, I think my Mom let me keep them a bit too long. But I guess some of us take a bit longer to grow up than the rest.
Most of my kids also had stuffed animals as comfort objects, inanimate friends they could carry around, play with, and confide in. There was something good and age-appropriate in it that they each grew out of in time.
But from the way far too many people talk about God, I wonder if the Holy One of Israel has become little more than a teddy bear to make us feel good about ourselves.
God is not our comfort object.
Yes, the Holy Spirit is the Paracletos: the Comforter, the Helper, the Advocate, the Encourager. But it’s a far more robust in meaning than the hand-holding we reduce it do. There’s steel in the word, not pats on the back.
Jesus did not set out to be anyone’s best friend. He sure doesn’t come across that way to his disciples, even though young John was comfortable enough to lean on him. Yes, Jesus called himself their friend and ours, but he never stopped being rabbi, teacher, master, and Lord to his disciples. He washed their feet, but he didn’t snuggle with them.
Jesus did not tell the religious leaders of his time that God loved them just the way they were. No! He called them white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones. He wanted to jolt them out of their self-satisfaction not lull them into it.
It has been said that Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. This is true.
Jesus propped up no one’s self-esteem. Rather, he boots self-esteem (a person’s self estimate of worth) out the door and gives us new identities as his disciples, his followers, his students, his servants, little replicas of him. It’s not what we think about ourselves that matters. It’s what we think about Jesus that matters.
And the biblical witness is in unity about Jesus. He is Lord. He is King.
This is a far cry from the Buddy Christ of popular imagination.
C.S. Lewis captured this kingly nature so well in his description of Aslan in his beautiful novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Not safe. Not a teddy bear. A lion, the great Lion. But he’s good. He’s the King.
Our God is dangerous. But dangerous in a good way.
He is holy.
Too often when we talk or sing about the kingship of God, we only include beauty and splendor. But we leave off the authority.
We’ve been too conditioned by the emasculated monarchies of Europe, where Queen Elizabeth is a powerless figurehead. She’s tolerated and even enjoyed because she embodies a sense of glory that the British people would like to retain while being a self-determining nation, not an obedient one.
Think about our songs and hymns:
The splendor of a king/Clothed in majesty/Let all the earth rejoice
All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ Name/Let angels prostrate fall/Bring forth the royal diadem/And crown Him Lord of all
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty/Who was and is and is to come/With all creation I sing praise to the King of kings/You are my everything and I will adore You
And these are the ones that refer to his kingship, something few songs do at all. But notice that even in these ones that bow down in worship at his majesty, there is never a call to submission or obedience, just awe, just adoration.
I don’t want to belittle these feelings of awe and adoration. They’re important. And they feel really good. But when that feeling is divorced from authority and submission, reverence becomes merely a feel-good moment and not a lifestyle.
As we pray the Lord’s Prayer (and I hope you actually do pray it), it teaches us to live in this tension of God as Father and God as King. As I’ve written elsewhere, the prayer teaches us to pray with the audacious insistence of children telling their Dad what to do and with the submissive passivity of subjects of the King.
There comes a time when we grow up and get rid of our teddy bears. And that includes our teddy bear versions of God.