Created in the Image of a Dangerous God

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M_Nicole

I walked into my lecturer’s classroom because I desperately needed to speak to him. I was rattled. Badly.

Why?

When I began my theological studies, I believed I knew and understood God. God felt predictable. As long as I followed the formula of fervent prayer and childlike faith, this God would respond “appropriately.” And yet, God had not responded as I so desperately needed or expected. My womb was still closed, my father’s drinking was still unmanageable, we were still struggling financially.

Was I not praying fervently enough? Was my faith not deep enough? Then one of the readings in my Theology classes, challenged my ideas of God and blew the idea of a predictable God out the window. It effectively yanked my understanding of God out from under my feet and left me feeling uncomfortable, anxious and displaced.

Those feelings led me to my lecturer’s classroom. Instinct told me he would know what to say to calm my churning insides.

“That reading you prescribed last year is still messing with my head!” I told him. “What am I supposed to do with a wild, unpredictable, dangerous God?” I practically shouted, levelling these words in staccato bursts.

He smiled, and in his gentle way, he replied, “Why do you think it’s messing with your head, Nicole? Is it perhaps because it gives you permission to be wild and unpredictable and dangerous?”

His words hit me hard, and the roaring in my ears prevented me from hearing anything else. His insight had set me free to be DANGEROUS.

***

The reading that changed my view of God was from Chapter Seven of Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of The Old Testament. I found two sets of metaphors for the same God; both images speaking of God’s power. It is not power arbitrarily wielded, but power exercised in ways that bring and maintain life.

1. God as judge, king and father.

God judges the world with righteousness (Psalm 9:8)

God is the king who is just and kind (Psalm 145:17)

God is the father of orphans and the protector of widows (Psalm 68:5)

2. God is also attentive and nurturing. God is:

The potter who gets his hands messy in the crafting process (Gen 2:7, 19; Jeremiah 18:3-6; Isaiah 45:9),

The gardener, who plants, cares for, and nurtures extravagantly to create the best possible garden (Isaiah 5:1-2).

The shepherd, who will risk danger for the well-being of the sheep (Psalm 23).

The mother who feeds (Numbers 11:12), remembers (Isaiah 49:15) and comforts (Isaiah 66:13).

The healer, actively intervening in periods of chaos and crisis to make a new life possible (Exodus 15:2-6; Jeremiah 30:17).

And yet, as Israel weaves a stunning word tapestry of God’s character, they do not shy away from the mystery and complexity of God.

In Exodus 34:6-7, we read about God’s mercy and grace. We read about how God is slow to anger and how God abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness. However, in that same text we are confronted with a stern God, a God who does not clear the guilty, but visits the iniquity of the parents upon four generations.

Those first few lines breathe life, hope and comfort into our hearts. With these words, we are introduced to a God who passionately stands in “generous solidarity” with his people. Then the small three letter word that disrupts the calm space—but …

The lines that follow are by no means comforting. We are confronted with a God who will not tolerate His sovereignty to be compromised, nor will He allow any challenge to His order and character.

The text leaves us with a sense of unease, and we are left wondering: How will God respond to the situations in our lives? Will God be the judge who will sentence or pardon? The king who will banish or invite to the table? The gardener who will cultivate or pluck? The doctor who will heal or pronounce the patient terminally ill?

Brueggemann writes that in this one passage, Israel’s text “bears witness to something potentially wild, unruly and dangerous in Yahweh’s life.” Even though God has shown himself to be attentive, loving and nurturing, God also takes “with savage seriousness” His “right to be worshipped, honoured, and obeyed.”

In the years that have lapsed since my theological studies, I have learned to surrender to and embrace this paradox found within God. I have learned to sit with this unease, because within the paradox is a seed—a promise that holds potential of extravagant life.

***

God is “potentially wild, unruly and dangerous,” because God will not be domesticated. God will not be tamed. God will not remain in the boxes we attempt to create with our norms or creeds or formulae. God himself alludes to the dangerous edge to his character when he reveals his name to Moses in Exodus 3. In most translations, the Hebrew phrase “ehyeh asher ehyeh” is rendered “I AM WHO I AM.” These same Bibles have an often overlooked footnote that offers an alternative translation to the Hebrew phrase.

The alternative translation is “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.”

Just stop and reflect on that for a moment. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE is a translation that embraces openness, newness, unpredictability, danger. And the best part is, I am created in the image of this God.

If God is a free agent and an active character, if God is wild, unpredictable and dangerous—then so am I.

I follow in the footsteps of all God’s daughters—my sisters—who fully embodied these characteristics. Women like Deborah and Jael (Judges 4), Tamar (Judah’s daughter-in-law in Genesis 38), Rahab (Joshua 2), Ruth, the women supporters of Jesus’ ministry and the women apostles, of which Mary Magdalene was the first. These women were all active agents in life-giving, transformative ways.

These women were dangerous because they refused to be caged in boxes that forced conformity. They refused to comply with man-made norms of society but rather chose to be active agents in their own story.

These women—including me and you—have permission to be dangerous, because God is dangerous. As image-bearers of this wild, unpredictable, always-open and always-new God, we have permission to be the same.

_____________

Image credit: Eric Kilby

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Nicole Joshua
Nicole Joshua is a teacher, academic, reflective practitioner and encourager. She loves passionately and deeply and feeding people’s tummies and hearts makes her whole being smile. She is also a reluctant writer and sometimes blogs at Finding And Owning My Voice. Nicole and her husband cannot contain their excitement at having just embarked on their journey to adopt their first baby. And when you're in the same building as her, and you need to find her, all you need to do is follow the sound of her laughter.
Nicole Joshua
Nicole Joshua

Latest posts by Nicole Joshua (see all)

Nicole Joshua
  • Nicole – YES, YES, YES!!! He is a dangerous (slightly irascible) God and we are made in God’s very likeness! When we live domesticated by the church, the expectations of others or our own timidity… we are denying a huge part of our divine and dangerous DNA. Please write more often for us – your voice and reflective praxis is needed here among us!

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Kelley. This is high praise from you whom I greatly admire, appreciate and love 🙂

      Your comment about domestication reminds me of the following quote:
      “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of 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.” Annie Dillard, in “Teaching a Stone to Talk”
      It somehow affirms God’s dangerous character, don’t you think 😉
      And it would be an honor to write more posts for SheLoves.

      • This is one of my favorite Dillard quotes – from one of her books I most love and re-read from time to time!!! So appropriate, indeed. We need to hand out crash helmets with the church bulletin, I think!

  • Donna-Jean Brown

    Excellent post, Nicole, thankyou! So many of us have had to to experience the same disillusionment: we cannot control or predict God’s ways no matter how many or how fervent our prayers. Scary and dangerous but oh how exciting to live this Christian way of surprizing adventures, trusting a faithful God who loves beyond measure. Maybe our anthem is Katy Perry’s “Roar”?
    And according to your bio you must laugh as loudly as I do. My kids told me that when they couldn’t find me in crowds they would just listen for my laugh. 🙂

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Donna 🙂
      I love that song! It was one of my anthems last year 🙂
      Isn’t it strange that peace comes not from getting exactly what we fervently pray for, but comes from shifting to a healthier, biblically grounded understanding of God. Learning this aspect of God’s character really freed me.
      And about my laugh, well… It’s nice to “meet” a fellow belly laugh sister 🙂

  • Anne-Marie

    Nicole – love reading your thoughts.The Annie Dillard quote is amazing! I think about that sometimes – that power, new life and kingdom are supposed to be now. So much to think on! Thank you.

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Anne-Marie.
      That quote always makes me giggle when I walk into church and they hand me the church bulletin (*grin*). But it also makes we wonder what would happen if God did show up with a bang in the midst of our services.

      • Anne-Marie

        Maybe he’s trying to and we’re too intent on our own expectations of what He’s looking like or doing in the world or how. I once caught a peek at an order of service in a large, wealthy church. It said ‘time for the spirit to work’ – 30 seconds. 🙂

        • Donna-Jean Brown

          HA!!!!!!! Made me shout with laughter, Anne-Marie…and then a headshake of lament for the church.

  • Such an excellent post, Nicole. Whew. xo
    And that graphic from Sarah? Incredible.

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Michaela 🙂

  • Helen Burns

    Nicole… this is a truly inspiring and ‘juicy’ post. Your words roar in my spirit…’These women were all active agents in life-giving, transformative ways….These women were dangerous because they refused to be caged in boxes that forced conformity. They refused to comply with man-made norms of society but rather chose to be active agents in their own story.’ Amen! Amen!

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Helen. I must admit that I got goosebumps when I wrote that sentence. It is most assuredly a sign that it was Holy Spirit inspired, and that it is meant to stir us up and invite us seeing their stories as our stories 🙂

  • Oh, Nichole, you have hit on the very thing that shows up all the cracks in my theology. I love the truth of God’s sovereignty, but, when his will collides with mine I’d much rather He came in smaller quantities — that He would be more predictable, even algebraic, so that if I did “A,” I could be sure He would do “B.” I have so much to learn about Him and his character. Thank you for pulling back the curtain for us, giving us a glimpse of “the edges of his ways.”

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Michele.
      I love your analogy of cracks in your theology. That’s kind of how I felt when I read that chapter, like a monumental crack had just happened. But that crack allowed the glory of God to shine through, and I was able to catch a tiny glimpse of how mysterious and awesome He is.

  • Oh I am WRECKED!!! This. In the middle of my starbucks-makes me want to run around yelling and crying. DANGEROUS. Thank you for such a RICH post. oozing of juice and fire! My bad foundation of God has crumbled the past couple of years. I find myself in a fresh place of discovering Him anew. Thank you for this.

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      It’s an absolute pleasure Sarah. I felt your emotion, and still do, when I read your comment. I pray that you will continue to discover God anew, and that journey of discovery brings you joy, healing and wholeness.

  • Saskia Wishart

    I find this shift from I AM WHO I AM to I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE helpful. The word “am” has a slightly more established feeling, “will be” seems as you said, unpredictable, harder to box in or figure out … Gives us permission to let God be bigger, and dangerous to our comfort zones. Both a frightening and freeing thought. Thank you Nicole!

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Saskia. An unpredictable God is scary, but it’s helped me to make sense of what sometimes appears to be answered prayer. I agree completely that it allows God to be so much bigger.

  • You nailed it so beautifully, Nicole. I feel honoured that your wrestling became this writing we can now sink our souls into. I feel honoured that we get to eat from this bread that you spent time kneading and baking and now serving to us. It feels like Communion. Thank you.

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Idelette, it is me who should be thanking you. You provided, and invited me into, a space where I could be brave enough to share theological reflections gleaned from my life and studies. And I love the analogy of communion. It is good and sacred to be in communion with such a wonderful community as SheLoves.

  • Bev Murrill

    Like CS Lewis says: God isn’t safe but He is good… and in the end, that’s what we know Him for. I want to be like Him… that must mean … in being good,I don’t have to be predictable or conservative or subdued… I can be me, and it’s ok!

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you Bev. I love this CS Lewis quote, especially the first part 🙂 I’m going to hold onto that truth – that he is not safe, but good 🙂

  • Ruth

    So, I’m not rebellious, naughty, pig-headed, a refuser of saying yes and allowing others to dictate my life…freedom is like a breath from God…and now you have said it! delicious, exciting, yet incredibly secure words…I am dangerous and wild, and God made me so….that explains why I never marched to the beat of a tiny drum, bass for me please! That list of verses explains it beautifully. Helen Reddy sang ‘I am Woman’ many years ago, and that made my young heart soar, and now you express it properly, with God at the helm, and stormy, exciting seas ahead.
    One thing I’ve learned through much sorrow and pain, is that God answers prayers in any way but what we expect…if we look for the leading, waiting guiding, but know it may come in a tiny deed or a cataract of certainty, we can be wild and get on as Jesus would have us do. Work while we wait, knowing a wild, but gentle God hears us. Expect answers, but let God write the words in our hearts, I’m sure He delights in answering g our prayers in ways that take us by surprise!

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Such wonderful reflections! Thank you Ruth. And I giggled when I saw you mentioning that song because I have been singing it all weekend 🙂
      Amen to marching to your bass drumbeat!

  • There’s so much meat here, and you take us through it all so clearly. You’re a gifted Bible teacher (in my humble opinion).

    This was good for me to read. I can feel myself chafing and squirming at parts of the theology, and that’s a sign I need to sit with this for longer.

    It’s really refreshing to read something with biblical theology in this space – thanks Nicole and Idelette!

    • Nicole A. Joshua

      Thank you for your kind words Tanya.

      It was scary for me to show up in this space with a theological opinion. I’ve more often than not shied away from putting my theological reflections out in the public domain for fear of rejection. This post was a HUGE step for me, and I suppose this month’s theme was an appropriate space for me to practice being dangerous 🙂

  • pastordt

    AMEN – wonderful, wonderful, Nicole. Thank you so very much.

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