The 'Other' Embrace
Hold me close,
let your love surround me.
Lead me near,
draw me to your side.
- “Power of Your Love” by Darlene Zschech
This is what I want it to feel like, like the words of this song. This is what my relationship with God is supposed to invoke, if I'm doing it right, or at least that's what 90% the lyrics of all contemporary Christian music say. Who doesn't want to snuggle up to the Maker of the Universe? When I'm blissed out on some praise and worship music, I can easily imagine that closeness to God is like falling into a fresh pile of blankets dried with Downy sheets. It's super awesome in there and it should feel incredibly deep and earthy.
However, there is another closeness, the one that does not make it into the great songs of my generation. I'm talking about the grip, WWF style. I'm not making it up. Many of our spiritual predecessors opened up about the great squeeze. Remember Jonah? He cozied up to the Creator, had a difference of opinion about some admittedly wicked people and ended up being thrown off the deck of a ship amid a raging storm. Skip over to Jacob; all he wanted was a blessing, which he got, but not without a dislocated hip to match. David loved the Lord with his entire being, and that's according to God Himself, but have you read the Psalms? David spends a great deal of time declaring his love for God while trying to figure out where God ran off to. And what has anyone ever been able to say about poor Job?
God is not truly like anyone or like anything that we know or can describe. I'm grateful for every artist, writer, songstress, testimony, sermon, and metaphor that has given me clues and insights about him and who he is. Yet the fact remains that a relationship with God is not comparable to the relationships we have with other human beings. Having integrity in a relationship means honesty, openness; it means facing truths about each other, including things that make us gasp. God certainly has accepted us, but have we accepted him? Who really wants to sing about the time God twisted their leg?
Jeremiah the prophet said the Lord had tricked and violated him (Jeremiah 20:7). Biblical scholars say that the original words Jeremiah used were similar to what we'd now call assault! It was all he could come up with to describe his interaction with a God who is self-described as filling the heavens and the earth (Jeremiah 23:24). Who would not feel overwhelmed, if not doomed, by a presence so infinite?
When the ark of the covenant slipped from it's cart Uzzah hurried to catch it. When he touched it he instantly fell dead, so David left the ark in the house of a man named Obed-Edom. Yes, he abandoned the presence of God! He was so afraid that he asked, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” (1 Samuel 6:9). In the midst of the praising and the celebrating, there was mystery, gravity and terror so great and so deadly that it stunned the entire assembly and made David cower and run. Can we love God and accept this too?
My relationship with God has looked like this: I draw near, but sometimes I shrink back. I understand Him, and then sometimes have a difference of opinion. His presence is near and comforting, or I'm wondering where God went. I wrestle with faith, with my life experiences, and with my Maker. In the times that I struggle God does not body slam me, although it really feels like it.
I'm coming around to the view that the 'other' embrace, the firm grip that keeps me when I want to run, that restrains me when I want to fight, that holds me painfully still while I feverishly sweat out my carnal strength, is necessary. It is working together for my good. These embraces often end in tears, and like Jacob, I think my joints may be wonky by the time it's all said and done. When we enter into relationship with the nonhuman, the Eternal, the Divine, it will sting. It will rub against our vices, our darkness, our preoccupation with ourselves and this world. It will crash into our erroneous concepts of God, our religion, and our ideas about what is fair, right and good. There will be collateral damage, my friend.
What I have learned from the Scriptures, however, is that it's alright. Wriggle, wrestle, kick, it's not like you'd ever win. God's covenant is air tight and his mercy endures forever. He is not intimidated by our tantrums or our rebellion, neither is he upended by our fears and our questions. He holds the rod and the staff in his hands. He anticipates a learning curve; it is we who do not.
Neither Jonah, nor David, Moses, nor Jacob, not even Job, was lost or abandoned for even one second. Let God hold you close, even as you squirm, or cry, or rage. His love will ultimately surround you, take care of you, renew you and transform you . . . but remember that He. Is. GOD.