“A stirring challenge.” Lee Strobel
“A strong antidote against a domesticated God.” Matthew Lee Anderson
When was the last time you were overawed by God’s majesty? Have you ever stood in stunned silence at his holiness and power?
In our shallow, self-centered age, things like truth and reverence might seem outdated, lost. Yet we’re restless. And our failed attempts to ease our unrest point to an ancient ache for an experience of the holy.
Drew Dyck makes a compelling case that what we seek awaits us in the untamed God of Scripture—a God who is dangerous yet accessible, mysterious yet powerfully present. He is a God who beckons us to see him with a fresh, unfiltered gaze.
Yawning at Tigers takes us past domesticated Christianity, into the wilds where God’s raw majesty, love, and power become more real and transformative than we could ever imagine.
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YAWNING AT TIGERS
YOU CAN'T TAME GOD, SO STOP TRYING
By DREW NATHAN DYCK
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Drew Nathan Dyck
All rights reserved.
WE LOVE TALKING ABOUT GOD'S LOVE.
Drop in on almost any evangelical church service and listen. You'll hear worship choruses dripping with emotive lyrics that border on romantic. The sermon will gush with assurances of God's inexhaustible affection. While such affirmations are good—we need to be reminded of God's love—something is missing. Rarely do we hear about God's mystery and majesty, let alone whisper a word about his wrath.
This one-sided portrayal diminishes our experience of God. We can't truly appreciate God's grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won't be lifted by his love until we're humbled by his holiness.
Oswald Chambers wrote, "The Bible reveals not first the love of God but the intense, blazing holiness of God." This book is an invitation to encounter that blazing holiness and to find, as Chambers went on to write, "his love at the center of that holiness." If we long to experience that love, we must begin with a topic many of us would rather avoid: the holiness of God.
INTO THE WILD
Tuesday, October 19, 2011, seemed like a typical day in the small town of Zanesville, Ohio. The weather was seasonably cool. It rained. People went to work. Kids went to school. And more than fifty wild animals—including lions, tigers, and bears—were loose in the area. That afternoon the 911 dispatch started receiving reports from alarmed residents: a wolf was spotted near the high school, a mountain lion on a rural road, a lion under a streetlight.
By nightfall Zanesville was in full emergency mode. Construction lights flashed the message: CAUTION: EXOTIC ANIMALS ... STAY IN VEHICLE. Residents were ordered indoors while local law enforcement scrambled to protect the public.
It all started when Terry Thompson, owner of a local private zoo, released his exotic animals before taking his own life. The freed animals included Bengal tigers, lions, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, leopards, and wolves. "It's like Noah's ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," said celebrity animal handler Jack Hanna.
News cameras descended on Zanesville, and the world watched as the surreal event unfolded. For one evening tigers and lions stalked, not the remote jungles of Asia and Africa but the sleepy streets of suburban America. In those twilight hours, two very different worlds collided. The wild invaded the civilized. The exotic clashed with the ordinary. The familiar was disrupted by the other.
YAWNING AT TIGERS
What happened in Zanesville sparked a national debate on exotic animal laws. But it led my mind in a different direction. It made me think of another unlikely encounter—not between a small town and wild animals but between humans and a holy God. Like the residents of Zanesville, we have heard reports of a foreign entity in our midst. Unlike them, however, we often fail to appreciate the gravity of what that presence means.
The Bible describes God in sobering terms. Among the myriad titles given, he is called "a consuming fire," "Judge of all the earth," and the "Lord of hosts"—a title that portrays God poised for battle, at the head of a heavenly army. In addition to these fearsome descriptions, the Bible stresses God's discontinuity with humankind. "God is not human, that he should ..." is almost a refrain in Scripture. We might imagine that God is a sort of Superman, just like you or me but with additional powers. But that kind of thinking betrays a dangerous illusion about God's nature. The truth is that God is radically different from us, in degree and kind. He is ontologically dissimilar, wholly other, dangerous, alien, holy, and wild.
If we truly believed this kind of God was in our midst, I wonder if we would respond more like the people in Zanesville—lock our doors and call the police.
But for the most part we neither tremble in fear nor thrill with excitement at the prospect of encountering this wild deity. Instead our church experiences are largely predictable and sedate. Our spiritual lives are devoid of passion. Yes, we believe, but often our knowledge of God is dry and cerebral. We give mere mental assent to truths that should leave us shaking. We mumble perfunctory prayers. We ask God to keep us safe, not realizing that it is from him we most need protecting. Even when we see evidence of God in our midst, when we glimpse his holiness, we're more likely to yawn than yell. Somehow we've succeeded in making the strange ordinary. We walk by tigers without looking twice.
Why are we so anesthetized? What's behind our lack of reverence, fear, and awe?
I think it's simple.
We've forgotten how big God is.
I remember having this point presented in dramatic fashion when I visited Israel. I was there with a group of American journalists. Our Jewish guide, Amir, had been leading trips through the Holy Land for thirty years and had a profound grasp of Scripture. At each site we visited, Amir would seek out a spot as isolated as possible from the never-ending stream of tourists, gather us in a semicircle, and expound upon the historical and theological significance of the site. Sometimes he seemed more like a preacher than a tour guide. I remember one talk in particular. With the Mount of Olives shimmering in the background, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe.
"God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked," he said. "But there's a problem."
He leaned toward us and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow.
"His presence is like radiation, more dangerous than plutonium. Nothing can live when God comes near. If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. It would be like a thousand nuclear bombs exploding at once. We would all die!"
Initially Amir's God-as-plutonium metaphor struck me as strange. I've heard God described as a father, master, king, warrior, judge ... but plutonium? Plutonium is pretty nasty stuff. Actually, it's awful. If inhaled, it's one of the deadliest elements known to man. Other kinds of radiation, like an X-ray, the body can handle in low dosages. But just one-millionth of a gram of plutonium will kill a person if it enters the lungs. One pound could kill millions.
I remember watching the news in the wake of the scramble to contain the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan in 2011. An article in the Wall Street Journal described the precautions taken by the emergency workers. In addition to constantly measuring radiation with cell-phone-sized dosimeters strapped to their chests, they wore "face masks with two filters ... hooded Tyvek suits, three layers of gloves and covers for their shoes. They wound tape at sleeves and pants cuffs to seal gaps." Even these precautions were decried by experts as too lax. That's how dangerous plutonium is—when it gets out.
OTHER AND INTIMATE
Amir's comparison seemed strange, maybe even sacrilegious. But as I recounted God's interactions with the ancient Israelites, I wondered if Amir was onto something.
I thought of all the stories surrounding the ark of the covenant, where people were struck dead or sickened from coming in contact with God's immediate presence. I thought of poor Uzzah, the Israelite who was killed for putting out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6:7). Or the times when God warned Moses to keep the people back from his glory lest God "break out against them" (Ex. 19:22). In these stories it almost seems like there was some kind of radioactive field surrounding God. Not literally, perhaps, but from reading these accounts you get the unmistakable idea that his holiness is dangerous, even deadly.
We tend to avoid these passages or explain them away. Each time a popular atheist writes a book accusing God of being mean (and somehow simultaneously nonexistent), we spill gallons of ink trying to defend God's actions. While I appreciate the works of apologists, this sort of enterprise often becomes a subtle way of domesticating God. After we get through explaining him, he comes off as misunderstood or hapless. I'd prefer to say, "Yes, God is dangerous. He's not a house cat; he's a lion. You're free to deny his existence or pretend that he's harmless. Go ahead and pet him if you'd like; just don't expect to get your arm back."
I'm reminded of the sad, strange story of Ellie Quo, a thirty-two-year-old Australian man who decided to put his fighting skills to the ultimate test. In the spring of 1989, after being told by his kung fu instructor that he had reached a level where he could kill wild animals with his bare hands, the impressionable student decided it was time to take on the most lethal predator. He sneaked into the Melbourne Zoo at night and scaled the lion enclosure. But rather than doing battle with one lion, he faced several. The fight ended with predictable results, and zookeepers found Quo (or what was left of him) the next morning.
It's a bizarre story that makes you question Quo's sanity. How could anyone, regardless of training, hope to take on a pack of lions with his or her bare hands? Yet the ill-fated man's foolishness is nothing compared to mere mortals who claim parity with an omnipotent God.
Perhaps it was to convey this dangerous side of God that pastor and author Eugene Peterson half-jokingly suggested churches post signs outside their buildings that read: BEWARE THE GOD.
"The places and occasions that people gather to attend to God are dangerous," Peterson explains. "They're glorious places and occasions, true, but they're also dangerous. Danger signs should be conspicuously placed, as they are at nuclear power stations."
Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Annie Dillard takes it a step further:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
Such vivid warnings may sound like exaggeration, but are they? Each year four or five people die at the Grand Canyon because of "overly zealous photographic endeavors." In search of the perfect picture, these tourists disregard warning signs and venture too close to the precipice. They underestimate the risk and end up paying the ultimate price. When we approach God casually, as if he were some sort of cosmic buddy, we make a similar mistake. We demonstrate a dangerous misunderstanding about his nature.
Don't get me wrong. God is not cruel and capricious. But Amir was right—he's dangerous. And that presents us with a huge problem. God's holiness is deadly, incompatible with life, especially for sinful mortals like us. "No one may see me," God warned, "and live" (Ex. 33:20).
But so far I've been telling only half of the story. Because just when God's holiness seems overwhelming, when the gulf between us seems hopelessly wide, that's where the gospel comes in. The good news is that this dangerous God turns out to be a lover. And he's not content to love us from a distance. He wants to be with us so desperately he cooked up the most creative and costly way imaginable to bridge the chasm.
God is dangerous, yes, but loving. He's above and beyond our physical world, yet mysteriously present within it. This, of course, is the grand paradox of the Christian faith. We worship a God transcendent and immanent, other and intimate, high and lifted up yet closer than our own breath.
He's the Intimate Stranger, and we are the objects of his fierce affection. Now the temple veil is torn. The Holy of Holies beckons, and we're free to enter. Just remember to tread lightly ... he's still the same God.CHAPTER 2
BEYOND THE SHALLOWS
MY WIFE AND I RECENTLY CELEBRATED OUR TEN-YEAR anniversary in Kona, Hawaii. It was an incredible trip, though not your typical romantic getaway. The reason? We brought along our eight-month-old son.
It's amazing how many things you can't do on the Big Island with a baby in tow. No surfing, no snorkeling, no kayaking, no crater climbing, no late-night luaus. More than once we wondered aloud whether we should have made the trip with such a young child. But by the end, we were glad we did. There's nothing quite like watching a child watch the world. And when that world is filled with the vivid sights of a tropical paradise, it's even better.
On one of our first evenings there, while my wife was getting ready to go out for dinner, I walked our son down to the beach. The early months of his life had passed in the landlocked Midwest, so this would be his first glimpse of the ocean.
As we neared the water's edge, I was curious to see his reaction. Would he smile? Giggle? Open his mouth and unleash one of his familiar "Gee, gee, gee!" exclamations? Or stare, awestruck?
I should have anticipated his response. The tide was in. The waves were high. They sped toward us with a growing roar before slamming into the rocky shoreline, churning up stones, and spewing them across the pebbled beach. It was a violent scene.
As my son took it all in, his bottom lip started to tremble. Then he jerked his head from the sight and stifled a scream against my shoulder. Suddenly I understood how strange and terrifying the pounding waves must have appeared to him. He'd never seen anything like it. What guarantee did he have that the next angry surge would stop before swallowing us whole?
His reaction made perfect sense: the ocean is overwhelming. And not just for children. Truth be told, I'm a little scared of it too. Poets wax eloquently about the ocean's beauty, its power to inspire serenity and introspection—and that's all true. But there's another side to the sea, a scary side, the side of powerful tempests and deadly creatures and dark depths. There's a reason swimming instructors tell you to respect the ocean. If you don't, it can kill you.
When I was about twelve years old, I remember looking out over the ocean at night and trying to imagine what it would be like to swim out into those black waters. It was about the scariest thought I'd ever entertained.
Vast, beautiful, powerful, dangerous—that's the ocean. It makes me think of God, which is probably appropriate. Both are immense, mysterious. Both can make us feel frighteningly small. The appropriate response to such greatness is respect and awe, even resignation. Yet often we tend to do something else, something very strange. We devise ways to make them more manageable. We scale them down to our size. We domesticate them. Or at least we try.
THE LURE OF LESSER GODS
This impulse is nothing new. It's been around for millennia.
Ancient Israel is Exhibit A. I'm stunned by how often the Israelites turned their backs on God to worship more manageable deities. We read about one such instance in Exodus 32. The story unfolds as Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. Frustrated by their leader's extended absence, the Israelites approached Aaron, the second-in- command, with a request: "Come, make us gods who will go before us" (v. 1).
Aaron obliged and got to work. Gold jewelry was collected and melted down. Then Aaron formed the gold into "an idol cast in the shape of a calf" (v. 4). The next day the Israelites rose early to make sacrifices to the golden calf.
This act of idolatry seems to come out of the blue. The Lord had just dramatically rescued the Israelites from slavery and supernaturally sustained them in the wilderness. It was only "the third month," we're told, since they had been liberated from Egypt (Ex. 19:1). That means the Red Sea parting was still vivid in their minds; the taste of manna clung to their breath. They'd drunk water from a rock and been guided by a cloud and a pillar of fire. Yet after witnessing these miracles and receiving repeated assurances of God's protection and provision, they chose to worship an idol instead.
Excerpted from YAWNING AT TIGERS by DREW NATHAN DYCK. Copyright © 2014 Drew Nathan Dyck. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Greatest Adventure ix
Part 1 Tiger Territory
Chapter 1 Divine Invasion 3
Chapter 2 Beyond the Shallows 13
Chapter 3 The God Worth Worshipping 25
Chapter 4 A Vision of Holiness 41
Chapter 5 Dangerous Living 55
Chapter 6 God Incognito 75
Part 2 Divine Embrace
Chapter 7 Loving a Lion 93
Chapter 8 Tenacity and Tenderness 105
Chapter 9 Intimate Beginnings 121
Chapter 10 Face-to-Face 133
Chapter 11 Jesus in the Shadows 145
Chapter 12 The Fragrance of Eternity 159
Discussion Guide 173
About the Author 209