Domesticating God

Psalm 99

The Lord reigns,

let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name—  he is holy.

The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done  what is just and right Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.

“Any time we begin to define religions as doing this and not doing that, we need Psalm 99.” –Peter W. Marty (Feasting on The Word)

We domesticate things, that is, we try to reduce everything down to our dominion: dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, gerbils, white mice, snakes, lizards, chimps, wolves, lions, tigers and bears and whatever else that will consent to share our abode. Often we have to be reminded they still have instincts from the wild. And we all have to learn we can’t do that to other people.

The idea has come up in my reading about this text that we have domesticated God. We have defined our ‘religion’ in behavioral terms and think of God as a mentor or friend.

The trouble with that is when we no longer need religion to ‘tell us how to run our lives’ and have outgrown the need for a mentor, we no longer need God. Our only definition of God is the source of love. The only thing relevant to us is the relationship. But we have to be reminded our relationships with God is not all there is to God.

So we need Psalm 99. The Lord reigns, nations tremble. Holy is He! Mighty King, lover of justice. Extol the Lord. God spoke in the pillar of cloud. Extol the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is Holy.

Those are off the leash words. Wild words. Words that take God out of the bounds of our comfortable relationships with a friendly, loving God. And we’re not always sure we are comfortable with them. We forget God is the holy one…the essence of holy. God is The Holy. God is The Justice. Mercy and love tempers some of the things Holy and Justice requires and God comes to us, through Jesus, on a level we understand. But that does not change who God is.

This Psalm reminds me I cannot reduce God down to my terms. God’s Holiness is beyond my wildest understanding and imagination. God is not a He or a She. God is not national. God is Spirit and international with no preference for any one nation or denomination, one worship style or another.

Granted, we speak of God in symbols so we can get a better grasp on who God is. That means we seek, and I think God uses, symbols that mean something to us. But if we find new symbols for God, we forget we are not really changing God.

And we all seek to worship God in ways that are meaningful to us, and I think that is acceptable to God. However, we need to be reminded in our worship we are entering into God’s presence in a way meaningful to us, not coaxing God into our box.

When we domesticate God, it makes relationship language difficult. Our tendency is to begin regarding our relationship with God like the ones we have with people. And we expect him to interact with us like people do, so we are afraid to really trust God. I understand it’s hard to hold both the view of the Otherness of God and the God who loves me so much he sent Jesus to connect with me and show me His love at the same time. But if we can somehow discover the richness of this contrast, our relationship with God becomes without equal.

So I pray:

God, help me let you out of the cage, so to speak, and allow you to be beyond my understanding without fear. Help me trust you because you come to my level so I might understand and accept you into my life, and yet remain the God beyond domestication.

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