Summary: Apart from faith in Jesus, meeting God is a fearful prospect.
Wilbur Rees described a common view of religion today: “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I do not want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please” (quoted by Chuck Swindoll, Improving Your Serve, 29).
It is natural to want a nice, safe, controllable god. It is natural – our sin natures cling to such an idol. Sigmund Freud said that the idea of god as a “Father figure” is a creation of primitive, ignorant men and women to deal with the difficulties and horrors of life. Life dishes out suffering, so we invent a loving “Father-god” to handle the psychological stress.
A couple of years ago, my son and I were playing in the ocean during a rather severe storm, because the waves were particularly large and fun. Somehow, in an instant, we were pulled by the undertow out into water above our heads. We screamed for help, but the few people on the shore could not hear us. I really believed we would die. However, my son called upon God and God rescued us. We were swept back to the shallow water.
In that situation, it is easy to speak of the lesson of God’s love and mercy. We rejoice, and rightly so, over God’s saving us. In a way, Freud would be right — we do have a nice and kind God, one who helps with our problems. But God is faithful, not only in rescuing us from the storm; he is faithful in bringing the storm. Freud errs not simply because he sees the God of Christianity as nice; her errs because he thinks the God of Christianity is simply nice. Freud is correct – man invents religion. Every day my heart conjures up a god who serves at my beckon call, a god who accepts me without changing me, a god who will one day whisk me into heaven without tossing me through a storm. Such are the gods of mankind’s imaginations.
But not the God of the Bible. Yes, Jesus calmed the storm. But the Jesus who commanded the wind to be quiet could have prevented it from blowing. The Jesus whose word calmed the waves could have spoken these words to his disciples, “A storm is coming tonight, men; let’s walk around rather than sail the sea.”
I like a god who calms raging storms, both those around me and in my turbulent heart. Of course I am tempted to create a religion with such a god! But what one in which God designs difficulties? What kind of religion creates a God who sails his people into the midst of death? Such is Jesus.
In a sermon on 1Peter 4, John Piper noted: “I have never heard anyone say, ‘The deepest and rarest and most satisfying joys of my life have come in times of extended ease and earthly comfort.’ Nobody says that. It isn’t true. What is true is what Samuel Rutherford said when he was put in the cellars of affliction: ‘The Great King keeps his wine there’ – not in the courtyard where the sun shines. What’s true is what Charles Spurgeon said: ‘They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.’ Christian Hedonists will do anything to have the King’s wine and the rare pearls – even go to the cellars of suffering and dive in the sea of affliction.”