John Piper once shared an intriguing analogy of how a person wakes up to new life. Imagine that you are asleep and what you perceive to be your life is actually a dream. In this dream you eat, work, play, talk, read news, go to church. You may hear about God but he isn’t very appealing to you, to say the least. There are other things, people, activities, ideas which seem much more interesting.
But while you are sleeping, the real God approaches your bed. He stops and stands there waiting. Your dream-life goes on until one day you hear a word, or see someone’s act of kindness, or notice something in somebody’s eyes, or read a book – and this very moment the Spirit of God whispers into your ear: “Wake up!”
You open your eyes and the first thing you see is…God. But he is totally different from everything you thought of him in your dream. As you keep looking at him you suddenly realize for the first time in your life that you had been dreaming.
Every time I think about this illustration I am surprised at how accurate it is. There are times in your life when you just wake up – and everything you thought you knew becomes absolutely strange, unknown. You have get reacquainted with something you “knew” your whole life.
The things God wakes us up through may be different but when the Spirit whispers “wake up” you just know – God becomes something totally “other” than what you thought of him. He is the Other. “Other” is his second name. He’s always “not the one you thought he was”. He breaks out.
On March 3rd Paul Young’s bestseller “The Shack” came out as a movie. When I had first read the book it was as if God whispered “wake up” into my ear. Controversial as this this book may be, it was an encounter with God. Below are some of my observations on the book/movie:
- God is better than you can imagine in your wildest dreams. When I finished reading the book I couldn’t shake the feeling: “It’s too good to be true!” But after letting it settle down in my mind I realized that the apostle Paul said something very similar: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” Spot on.
- God will not necessarily give us answers but he will teach us to be with him every moment. Can you simply “be”? It’s hard for me sometimes. I tend to fall into the trap of wanting to be something else. But God delights in having me with all my imperfections because he sees the potential. Just like I delight in my children with all their imperfections because I see their potential. To be means to feel loved in the moments of your imperfection.
- God does not expect anything of me. But he’s full of expectancy. To have a friend who loves us for who we are, not for what we can give, is everyone’s cherished dream. This love singles out. It makes us different from everyone else and this is how we gain our uniqueness, our face. To gain your own face means to be chosen by a discriminating love. That’s what God does – singling us out he makes us unique. When we feel our uniqueness we rise up to God’s expectancy. His hopes for us cannot be realized till we have faces.
- What we imagine God to be right now is probably a caricature of God. Believing in this caricature makes us unhappy. You cannot imagine God, much less describe him. But we are all tempted to create a certain image of him. Put him in a box. In doing this we replicate our own perceptions shaped by our wound. We imagine God through our distorted inner mirror – our mind. But we cannot imagine God we can only meet him. And every encounter with him breaks the mold of our distorted perceptions. God is always new, always “other”. Whatever we imagine him to be is contrary to the 2nd Commandment.
- God does not force anyone to do anything. Compulsion is not his language. We live in the world where shame, guilt and fear are the most effective methods of motivation. They say, most of advertisers in the 1960s and 1970s used sexual allure to attract customers to their products but in the early 1980s they switched to fear. Apparently it works better. Our human nature tends to transfer this way of “motivating” onto God. Words and phrases we often use in speaking to ourselves and others boil down to this: “If you don’t obey you will go to hell”, “Jesus died for you, and you can’t do such a little thing for him?” “If you don’t cleanse you vessel the Spirit of God won’t dwell in you” etc. However God is not interested in forced obedience. He could have easily forced us to obey out of fear if he chose to. But his most fitting analogy in this world is beauty – a force which is forceful without forcing. The power which will not lord anything over. It rules without domination. It is compelling without compulsion. You can ignore its call if you like. But you DON’T WANT TO. When it strikes you, you are filled with awe. And it’s the only form of “fear and trembling” with which our salvation is wrought.