Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: God Ain’t Your Sugar Daddy
by Jane Tawel
September 16, 2018
Søren Kierkegaard in his aptly titled book, Provocations writes provocatively:
To love God is the only happy love, but on the other hand it is also something terrible. Face to face with God we are without standards and without comparisons; we cannot compare ourselves with God, for here we become nothing, and directly before God, in the presence of God, we dare not compare ourselves with others. Therefore in every person there is a prudent fear of having anything to do with God, because by becoming involved with God we become nothing.
Yes. This. This is where we have gone so very, very wrong as a species. This is how as beings we have lost sight of that which can only call itself, “I Am”. This is how we can pray to a God – to The God!—for minutiae, for self, for games, and for stuff, and for feelings – pray not about God’s Kingdom but our own.
I write this as my daughter is one of the millions who has survived and dodged death in the region of Hurricane Florence. We are thankful that she had enough money to escape, a friend to escape with, and that the storm lessened dramatically from what was predicted. And yes, we prayed. But I pray every single day for two things: 1. Keep my kids and Raoul and me safe. 2. Help my kids and Raoul and me come closer to knowledge and love of You, God.
But those two prayers are contradictory, because truly seeking knowledge and love of God is not a safe quest. And so we live prudently and keep God not only faceless but nameless. I have found this is what we do with people and why should we not do it with God. If I don’t know the name of the grocery store bagger, then I can talk on my cell phone while she, an automaton, bags my food. If I don’t know the name of the person calling me to sell me something, I can hang up on them. And so it has become with our generic god – we think we honor Him as the only god by capitalizing his name, but we are really just trying to capitalize on our assumed relationship to Him. We give His son an equally odd distinction of powerlessness, combining His title, “The Christ” as a sort of last name, like “Smith” to his first name, Jesus. In this way we cut the power out from under Him. And we don’t need to be truly connected with nameless gods or humans and we can mask our fear as power or business or need or greed.
We have become so afraid of having anything to do with God because He may require something different of us, require something we don’t like; require us to give up something. We give god an innocuous name so that our relationship to Her remains neutral, neutered and nihilistic – all the while using Her as a male-daddy figure who loves us more than our brother, Cain. We refuse to be creatures to a Creator, lest She require us to dance with abandon amongst those who are homeless until a new earth is created by us as it was meant to be cared for in the first place – by us. We pretend that it is all in God’s hands and that He will give us the “desires of our hearts”, forgetting that we are to live as nothing but the desires of God’s heart in the world.
We keep the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob safely in the back pages of an historical book, trotted out to prove that we are safe and secure because somehow we “believe” He exists. We forget demons are real and they believe too, but they don’t fear God, they don’t serve God, they don’t give up everything to follow God. We downplay the prophets and elevate the personal letters. We leave Jesus hanging on the cross taking care of the covenant so we can play golf and let the current kingdom make the rules. We prefer a tin-god we can watch on television until we change the world’s channel to the next session of whatever pharaoh trumps today; preferring idols and golden towers to the God whom no man has seen and lived.
We have stopped being involved with Jehovah, preferring a more casual, politically correct, impersonal name – just “god”. Imagine if instead of “Mom” my children called me “person”? Imagine if instead of Mrs. Tawel, my students called me “Teacher”? Imagine my husband’s response if I stopped calling him by any of the special names I have for him – Boo-boo; honey; Dr. T; Ropey; Mr. Moto; Raoul, etc. – and any time I wanted something or wanted to tell him how much I love him, I simply addressed him by saying, “Dear Male, the only male in my world, please let me win this game and please, Male, help me mop the kitchen floor.” This. is. Who. we. Have. Made. Yahweh. Dear Male God whom I claim, like my husband, to have the most intimate relationship with because that is what it says in a book I get if I believe in some obscure, out there being who loves me so much just because I love me so much… can you please do this for me because I am Jane Karen Cook Tawel – and you know my name, right?”
We threaten God that where “two or three are gathered together in His name”, which we don’t use, that He has to give us what we want even if our shoes are still on and our cell phones merely muted. And we call our selves by His name without any irony, “little Christs” we name ourselves, assuming that we will never be held accountable for our side of the covenant.
Imagine if when our kids called home, they purposely only called when they knew we were out and they could just leave a message – knowing we couldn’t give them advice in person, or speak our minds, or talk back – we would just be there to listen to a message and then send money or whatever. Of course sometimes, since their parents are flawed human beings, adult kids should do this but that doesn’t mean when they do so, that it changes the relationship. Our children are meant to be independent but as they become less dependent, the relationship is less close, right? This is exactly what we who claim to be “His children” keep doing throughout our history since Eden with our Father God. We call God up as a friend and ask for something while we go about our day as if He is just the person on the other end of an answering machine. God forbid! That God should actually pick up the phone and talk back!
As written down by the scribes of God’s interactions with people, right after God gives His newly chosen people the rules that will help them form a community that withstands time, other powers, and the selfishness inherent in each of them, the book of Exodus has the Hebrews deciding they would rather leave the God-relationship to the professionals – or at least to someone else.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20: 18 -21)
And so it goes, century after recorded century, we mask our fear with blaming or taming God. We seem as Kierkegaard so vehemently points out to have completely tamed what that other great provocateur tried to warn us is “not a tame Lion”. And Jehovah always allows us our freedom – to either fear Him so much we want nothing to do with Him or to not fear Him at all so we can have nothing to do with Him.
Today, Jesus is our pal, not our King and God is our genie in a bottle not our Creator. People have given God lots of names, but God gave Himself some names and then, when we rejected The Father, He sent His Son to speak out and live out those names. In Exodus 15, God has a little “Let’s Get Re-acquainted Party” with His created humans whom He has called out from the nations into community with Him.
In Exodus 15: 26, God is directly quoted as speaking to people – not just taking their messages: “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”
I Am reveals Himself as Jehovah Rapha – or as humans might say: “HE who can Heals”. Human words fail God-Healer, but He keeps trying. When Moses asks God for His name, God is stumped but nonetheless, gives it the old college try – “Hey, Moses, my man, how about you just call me “I AM”. As C.S. Lewis wrote in “A Grief Observed”: “Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.” And yet we are never told by God to stop asking. Just like any good Parent, God always wants His children to talk with Him, ask Him things about Himself, rely on Him, and also, to respect or “fear” Him. But God doesn’t want to always have to speak baby-talk to us either; He longs to communicate Himself to us, not just mimic our babble and leave us living in Babble with each other.
And yet even when The God comes as the human Jesus who speaks directly to people, He fails – because we fail. Again. And again. When Jesus healed the worst physical infirmities of all, people thanked Him and then walked away having gotten what they wanted out of God. But Jesus and His Father have always wanted to heal more than our sniffles. We want the Trinity to be our handi-wipe, our Kleenex, our heavenly botox for our outer selves and not a raging fire for our soul’s viruses. I think Christ when speaking to those who had just witnessed His powerful relationship with Yahweh, said with some amount of disbelief: “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”
And so today, we are quite happy – relieved even –to leave Christ on the Cross where He, like Moses, spoke with God. We enjoy the myth that evidently Jesus “paid it all” on Calvary so I can live without following Him or His Father. And so we rack up treasures on earth and thank a nameless God for them; and we worry about if our daughter is going to win the game and we ask God for a favor; and we sweat in the night about the lump we find and we beg God for healing; and we live as if Jesus died but didn’t rise and as if God is tame, and not fearsome. And somehow we think we will go to God’s Heaven anyway because of – what? Because we call Him “Sugar Daddy” and know He owns the whole train — the whole kit and caboodle? We bought a ticket but don’t want to take the journey. And why would we want to live somewhere not here under our control any way with a bland God who lives only to please us?
We have made God the fairy dust of our desires and so to dust we will return because that is where we are most comfortable.
There are many instructions about fearing the Lord God Jehovah. Psalm 25:12: Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. Proverbs 15:16: Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it.
Deuteronomy 6:24: So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.
And so forth and so on. But right in the very beginning, right after Yahweh introduces Himself as God- Creator, He introduces another name to call Him by and this is what the chosen people of God (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah etc.) called Him: El-Shaddai (God Almighty). El-Shaddai – God of The Mountains. Jesus later says, “If you have faith, you can move This Mountain” and his hearers would be aware that Christ meant you can move God with your faith. But faith isn’t fairy dust, faith is following the covenant – the agreement with Jehovah and this is what the real name of the real god means: “Jehovah – The God of The Covenant Between Us and Them”.
We love to quote Jesus’ use of the term, “Daddy” or “Abba” when He speaks to The Father, but Jesus most often uses other names for Jehovah when He speaks to other human beings. He calls The God, “Theos” or “One and Only god”; Kyrios or “ Our god of The Covenant with Those Who call Him and Only Him ‘Lord’”. When Jesus begins the discourse that will lead to the prayer in which He address Kyrios as his own personal dad; Jesus tells the people that all the universe belongs to Megas Basileus or The Great King, as compared to other kings. In The Christ’s condemnation of our treatment of The Lord God, He tells us that Jehovah is “Kyrios Ouranos Ge” –The Ruler, Lord, Overseer of all the heavens and all of the Earth. And on and on we could go – and yet, those names scare us, as they should. We prefer to focus on remaining children who see God as someone too scary to be talked with directly. We prefer to lisp in our little voices, “Pweeze, daddy gimmee, gimme, gimmee – at least that which I can not get for myself through power, science, technology, coercion, greed or busyness.” By the time we are thirty, or forty, or sixty years old our baby prayers should just sound pathetic.
We have turned god into our Sugar Daddy. We have kept Him safely dead on a cross still paying for our sins, while we have no more desire to be resurrected than we have of seeing Him resurrected among us. We have made the Holy Spirit, the fun- praising Party Guy; and we pray for more dust to add to our already large dust piles. All we like sheep have remained foolish and all we like dust- bunnies have remained useless. We were created in the image of a God and we have decided that the image in the mirror is a safer bet.
Oh, if only we could long to become nothing in the presence of Jehovah Holy, Holy, Holy. Isaiah cried: “Woe to me!” “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” It is recorded that:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6)
If even angels hide their eyes in the presence of God, how can mere mortals long to be in His presence without fear?
This next bit will scare me to write but…..There have been a few times recently, when I have been lying all alone, worried and small in my bed at night, praying the prayers of the small and worried, when suddenly a True and Terrifying Presence has come near. To use a very flawed simile the feeling I experienced in that moment, reminds me of the time I decided to be very, very brave and try barefoot water skiing. I could only stay on my feet for about 30 seconds. That is how those late night times of a real sense of Jehovah were – I honestly could only stand to remain in my mind, heart and soul for about 30 seconds with what I knew to be “The Real Jehovah” – the One to Fear; the One in whose presence I am nothing, and yet…. Even in that fearsome moment….
I also recognized in Him, He Who is my daddy; He who came to live among humans; He who cares for me more than any earthly parent ever did, ever could.
After our Fall and our decision of trying to make the world into our own ideas of good and evil; of making ourselves God-wannabe’s, or “adults”; the Parents had to change the terms of our agreement, for the sake of their children –ourselves, the planet, and other beings both human and non-human. Jehovah’s love was never offered as license to be healed only physically, to go my own way not Yahweh’s Way, to let Christ die for me without my dying for Him, or to not be very, very fearful of A God Who Cannot be Contained in One Name. Because like any Good, Good Mother, Jehovah knows that once a relationship grows up that real love requires both people not just to say but to do; not just to take but to give; not just to ask but to receive; not just to follow but to lead; and not just to plant but to nurture. With Jehovah, relationship means not just to believe, but to worship. Just like the day I married Raoul, didn’t mean we would stay in close, living relationship forever but did mean I was covenanting with my husband to love each other in spirit, truth, deed, and body, heart, mind and soul. This is why The Christ compares us to The Bride — it is a marriage contract not a warranty we buy to protect our purchase of God-life.
When we lost our awe of The One God with Many Names, we lost what is defined as, “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”. When we carelessly set down our reverential fear and wonder of Jehovah-Creator, we lost our love for Him and what we call love is a sad reflection of what we were created to enjoy with Him and which Jesus The Christ did enjoy with Him while among us. Jesus invites us to have that same fearful love of El Shaddai today which is paradoxically a relationship with the intimacy of marriage. We are offered the same relationship that Jesus had with Jehovah, and to understand that even though Christ was the only begotten Son, He still feared His Lord. We are called to fear and love as well, and to follow that covenantal relationship that The Christ now has for eternity with The Father, but we have to want to get to know The God I Am, and be known by Him – not just keep leaving messages to a generic-named god. And that should be terrifying. And yet, strangely freeing.
The prophet Amos (3:8) cautions us to live in fear of the Lion of Judah-God: “The Lion has roared, who will not fear Him”; but that Lion was also the lamb and when He came to live among His sheep, as The Christ, He showed us the nature of Jehovah and also our awed but trusting responsive nature to Him who is our Shepherd. Only then can we too serve as lions feeding Yahweh’s sheep.
If we lose ourselves to our own nothingness into the awe of He Who Is– then through Faith, Hope and Love, we will be all that we were created to be and reborn into that which can remain; and by losing the love of ourselves, we gain what is Love Eternal. In this way, by dying to self, we ironically, gain our truest selves. To love God is indeed, something terrible, something out of my control, something fearful, but in Yahweh’s created worlds, all beings which love Him with fear will be with Him forever in His Peacefulness Without End Kingdom — where the Lion and the Lamb snuggle together where there is finally nothing to fear– not even looking on the face of a Holy God. A Worshipful Holy Terror of Jehovah is the only thing that will ever bring me true and eternal joy. And so as our Messiah taught us, we pray: “Our Father, Who Art ‘I Am’, Sacred Be Thy Name”.
A Psalm of Frightened Joyful Love to an Awesome God:
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.