Embarrassed by God

God, knock the teeth out of their mouths;
Lord, tear out the young lions’ fangs.
May they vanish like water that flows by;
may they aim their blunted arrows.
Like a slug that moves along in slime,
like a woman’s miscarried child,
may they not see the sun.–Psalm 58:6-8

A few weeks ago, I commented on the many passages in Psalms that sound like a caller to a talk-radio show spouting off about their opponents. I can’t remember if I cited this passage from Psalm 58, but I know that I had it in mind when I wrote the entry.

I’m reminded of these words as I have recently been reading Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. Among the many worthwhile things Chan presents is the notion of being embarrassed by God. He confesses to having a tendency to skip over the uncomfortable spots in scripture or to at least read them really fast in order to get to the “good stuff.”

In the context of Chan’s book, the passages to be minimized are those that speak of judgment and hell, the fate of the goats. We’ll all talk about the sheep and their rewards all day long, but we’d rather that the nasty spots would fade into the background or perhaps be dropped into footnotes by cutting-edge translators.

We don’t get to choose, though. Chan compares being embarrassed by God to the kid who tries to keep his friends away from his alcoholic father. On a good day, that father might be a lot of fun, but on a bad day . . . look out. Is that how we view God?

Modern sensibilities say that all that stuff about judgment and wrath are out of step with proper understanding. “I can’t believe in a God who would . . .” people frequently say. Most evangelicals don’t say that, but we tend to act that way. That kid with the alcoholic father doesn’t have to say, “I hate you when you’re drunk” to hate dad when he’s drunk.

Part of me wants to read David’s words here and dismiss them as words spoken in anger. I want to imagine God–the God who I can believe in–saying, “Okay David. Simmer down now. Remember that we’re all about love. All you need is love.” Yes, my foolish heart believes that God quotes the Beatles now and again.

But if I accept that this Psalm is inspired, then I can’t simply sweep it away as the product of David’s bad day. If I’m going to believe that the “good” Psalms–23, 51, 100–are inspired, then I have to accept that the teeth being knocked out are similarly God-breathed.

If God embarrasses me today as I read Psalm 58, how much more often do I embarrass Him–or maybe the better term is disappoint Him. God is in charge. He created everything and sustains everything. Abandoning that belief, we’re on a glide path into creating our own god who really just reflects our own limited vision and desire. If God embarrasses me, then I suppose I need embarrassing. If his words step on my toes, then I need to move my feet.

I Can’t Look! You’re Gonna Fall!

Afraid of HeightsI have, among other slight psychological disorders, something that I call, Vicarious Acrophobia Syndrome. VAS (which is not included in the the American Psychological Association’s DSM-5, is a very real problem. It means that you have fear of heights for someone else. Just to be clear, I have very real fear of heights for myself. Only in recent years have I gotten to where I can scale a ladder and get onto my own roof, but watching somebody, like this fool sitting on the edge of oblivion in the photo, makes me crazy.

I first recognized my struggle with VAS back at Boy Scout camp a number of years back. As an adult, I had been enlisted to help out with an evening’s adventure, guiding boys to scramble up a challenging but not terribly dangerous rock formation. I say that it was not terribly dangerous, but the top of the formation was also the top of a 60-foot cliff.

The guys in charge of the outing had me go up the rocks first. “Just keep everyone from going crazy up there,” they told me.

To me, the way that you keep from going crazy at the top of a cliff is to hold onto a tree–or better yet lash yourself to said tree–30 or 40 yards away from the edge. Instead, these boys would walk up to the brink of the cliff and stare down into the void. I thought I would die.

My rational mind knows that a 12-year-old boy can stand on the edge of something–a rug, for example–look down, and not totter over onto the floor. Why shouldn’t he be able to stand on the edge of a cliff? That’s my rational mind, but my VAS-afflicted, emotional mind was going crazy.

Why am I thinking about this today? That’s probably fodder for another entry, should I ever get around to it, but thinking about my lifelong struggles with VAS leave me wondering about a struggle I don’t have.

Every day, I see people who are standing on the brink of an eternity in hell just as surely as those Boy Scouts were standing on the brink of the cliff. And while those Boy Scouts were not about to suddenly plunge to their deaths, these unsaved people will someday face death and plunge into that doom unless something brings them to Christ.

Why do I, the VAS-obsessed guy, not have a similar dread of their very real fate?  Why is a highly-unlikely physical risk so much more frightening to me than a completely-certain spiritual risk? I wish I could answer that. More importantly, I wish I could generate the sort of empathy for those standing on the brink of hell that I have for those standing on the brink of a cliff.