Summary: which mountain are you hanging around? One full of misconceptions about God that keep you far away, or one that draws you irresistibly closer by the very nature of its goodness?
A Tale Of Two Mountains: Hearing God Through Hebrews 12
Heb 12:18-24 Mar 11, 2007 (3rd week of Lent)
Do you ever feel afraid to come to God?
Maybe it is because we are afraid of punishment – we are aware of some place that we have messed up, something we’ve done that was wrong, something we knew we should have done and didn’t. And we feel ashamed. We feel unworthy. We feel sure, way down in the deep depths of our souls, that God is angry and disappointed and is going to punish us severely for our terrible crime.
Or maybe we feel afraid to come to God because we have a vivid picture of who God is that is full of incredible power. Terrifying might. Overwhelming strength. You know, the kind of power that scares us because a tiny glance in our direction could completely wipe us out. We want to stay far away, because it doesn’t feel safe to be close to that kind of power.
How about a fear of coming to God because we believe we don’t belong. We’ll be outsiders. We’ll come to this place where there will be a whole group of people who know this whole set of unwritten rules, and we won’t know them, and we’ll feel alienated. We won’t know how to act, how to talk, how to belong. And maybe besides, a lot of the people we’ve been exposed to who seem to be close to God are a bunch of wierdos that we really don’t want to be like!
Or perhaps we are afraid to come to God because we think that if we listen, He will make us stop doing all the things we like, and force us to do a whole bunch of things that we really won’t like.
Those four fears correspond to four misconceptions about who God is. The first, the fear of punishment, comes from an image of God as an angry judge. The second misconception, that of God as a terrifying power, comes from an image of God like a destructive tidal wave. The fear of not belonging comes from an image of God as an exclusive party host, and of church as some strange secret society where people like us with problems and messed up lives don’t belong. The last fear, of God making us stop everything we enjoy and do things that will make us miserable, comes from an image of God as a galactic party pooper.
Misconceptions with roots in reality…
I can understand how we get to those misconceptions. There is a little bit of truth in them, but that little bit of truth has become stretched so that the end result is an image of God that keeps us away from Him, rather than something that draws us closer.
The image of God as an angry judge: well, God is a judge. It says so in the passage we are going to read in a moment. But He is not an angry judge, He is not sitting high and aloof waiting to dole out punishment on transgressors, He does not delight in our suffering. On the contrary, the pardon He grants sets us completely free, and that is why He so deeply wants us to come to Him.
The image of God as terrifying power: well, God is all powerful, full of might and strength. But God’s power is not against us, is not out to destroy us, does not wish to terrify us and keep us away. Instead, God’s power is for us! “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Rom 8:31).
The image of God as head of an exclusive party to which we don’t belong: well, God is the head of a party, but it is not an exclusive party thrown only for insiders! All of us who come to God will be welcomed.
The image of God as a galactic party pooper: well, God does command us to do and not do certain things, but they are all to make the party better, not to end it! Jesus’ first miracle was done to keep a party going – the miracle at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine kept the celebration going. Everything God commands is all for our best joy.
So, come to God the judge to find pardon and freedom. Come to the God of power that is for you, not against you. Come to God’s party and be welcomed as a child of the host. Come to the God who shows us what things to avoid and what to embrace so that your life will be most full of good things.
We are not the first group of people to struggle with misconceptions about who God is that keep us away from Him instead of drawing us close. The author of Hebrews noticed this also, and wrote about it in Hebrews 12. First is a description of the misconception: