“Faith pulls off the visor from His face, and sees a loving heart under contrary appearances.” Pastor Richard Sibbes (1600-1661)
Who’s Really Behind the Curtain?
Adam experienced it. As did Jacob, Job, Jonah, John the Revelator and many other Old and New Testament saints. There are those today who, in their love and pursuit of God, will also experience the bewildering phenomenon of a lamb-hearted God who wears the face of a lion. Herein we have one of the many mysteries of God.
God told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree he would die.
“…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17 ESV
It was a strong, unbending command. Adam failed. And in their fear Adam and Eve hid from God. And yet the Lord with a broken heart called out as to their whereabouts (Genesis 3:9). Then instead of striking them dead right then and there he cursed the lying devil/serpent, and killed and skinned an innocent animal. He then clothed the fallen couple, covering the guilt of their nakedness they felt on the outside from the sin that awakened on the inside (Genesis 3:21). Strangely enough, hidden behind the words of a Holy Executioner was the Promise of a Redeemer.
“I will put enmity between you (the devil) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he (the messiah/redeemer) shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:16 ESV
Jacob wrestled with God at a place he called Peniel (which means I have seen God face to face. Genesis 32:30) for he struggled all night in a fight with a man (Christophany) and God spared him. The question arises why God appeared in such a mysterious way as to make Jacob fight for a blessing?
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:26 ESV
And God did. He blessed Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel who would father twelve tribes, one from whom would come the Messiah. Hidden behind the face of a Holy Wrestler was the Heavenly Blesser. Still the question: Why did God make Jacob fight to receive His blessing? Yet Jacob was determined, and would not let go of God. We must wonder whether we would have done the same?
Job too experienced it. The dread of the Sovereign Face. Making low the pride of a contentious Job God declares out of a whirlwind,
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job 38:1-3 ESV
Job feared God but there was much more of Him to know. Job believed God to be the kind of deity whose main interest was in executing holy justice. This myopic view of God led Job to bring his case before the Judge of Heaven for what he thought to be unfair punishment for his affliction and personal calamity.
“But I [Job] would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.” Job 13:3 ESV
Surprisingly, when God finally spoke it was not about meting out holy justice but was about his parental care and affection as understood in his relationship to creation. Job lacked the truth of God as a loving, caring parent who intimately knew of his personal afflictions. And so after God gave a lengthy disclosure of his love and care for his creation Job finally had revelatory knowledge of the paternal and, might I add, the maternal heart of God (Job 38:29, Isaiah 66:13).
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” Job 42:5 ESV
Job never got to plead his case before a Heavenly Judge but instead found the lap of a loving Father. He was restored to health and his losses were recovered twofold. Job 42:10
Jonah grew angry when God, whom he’d wished would destroy the pagan city of Ninevah, sent him to announce repentance to them. In the short span of forty days all the Ninevites believed and God spared the wicked city.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah 4:1-3 ESV
Jonah knew that behind the fire of God’s judgment there was a passionate heart of forgiveness.
And what more striking a picture of Jesus is there when the apostle John is taken to heaven. From the announcement of an elder, John expected to see Jesus as a Lion from the tribe of Judah. But instead he beholds him as a Lamb that was slain.
“And one of the elders said to me [John], “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,..” Revelation 5:5-6 ESV
As the Puritan theologian Richard Sibbes said, “Faith pulls off the vizor from His face, and sees a loving heart under contrary appearances.”
These biblical narratives show us something of the wonderful mystery of God. Sometimes he hides himself to bring us to some greater truth about himself as he did when he appeared incognito to the two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:16). But mainly he does so to enflame a deeper desire for him as seen in the Song of Songs.
“On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not.
I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.” Song of Songs 3:1-2 ESV
How many of us have thought God to be one way only to discover he may act differently from what we had expected? Like the bride in Songs she wakes up to find her husband gone. This is not like him at all. To her, his action of leaving without notice is uncharacteristic of what she knows about him. Many commentators agree the bride in Song of Songs symbolizes the church and her lover as Christ. Have we not felt like that at times? We ask ourselves Where has the Lord gone? I don’t sense Him in my life right now. Sure you have. And so have I. The point is this: our ideas about who God is and how he may act could very well be different from what we think. And how God goes about revealing himself is part of his purposeful design. It is to stir our affections and attract us to Him. It is to get us to the place where we ask ourselves How badly do we want Him and desire to know Him more? The bride’s response is of great value to us. She leaves at night and searches every corner of the city to find him. She even asks the guardians of the city if they have seen him:
The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Song of Songs 3:3 ESV
They don’t know but she never gives up until she finds him.
“When I found him whom my soul loves I held him, and would not let him go.” Song of Songs 3:4 ESV
Though she could not understand why he left her she was love sick for him. And searched for him until she found him.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 ESV
We may not always understand why we sense the Lord withdrawing from us but it might be to awaken us from our slumber and draw us more dearly to himself.
This brings me to Oz. Let me stage these biblical truths with help from this familiar story-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. So, if you’ll follow me down the yellow brick road I’ll attempt to show how this fictional story illustrates these two significant aspects of our relationship to Christ. One is about loving Jesus completely and following him down the narrow road, the other is about how the Lord draws us to himself. May we, as Sibbes stated, have the kind of faith that will pull off the visor from His face. This way we can see more of him and therefore love him all the more.
God in Oz
I love a good story. And this is one of my favorites. Why? Because it is a story riddled with many lessons about life. Some of which, if one is careful to look for them, reflects a Christian view of life.
Dorothy runs away from home and is caught in a severe tornado. She soon finds herself in the land of Oz. After meeting up with three unusual characters: the straw man, the tin man, and the cowardly lion, they’re off to see the wizard in an attempt to have their wishes granted. They are instructed to stay on a single path- the yellow brick road to reach the Emerald City where the wizard lives. It is to be a perilous journey which they hope will lead them to the wizard himself. At the end of the story the lesson Dorothy learns can be summed up when she clicks her ruby slippers and says, “There’s no place like home.” What I like about this story are the Christian themes which are woven throughout. Certainly there is the classic good versus evil theme as well as the importance for the love of family. But there are other not so obvious themes. Two of which I find most interesting and revealing. These two themes touch us at our deepest human level. And at every point of our humanity. The first is the Christian view of love. And more to the point, our love for God. The second theme is knowing God, and the ways in which he reveals himself to us, which is often mysterious.
Let me start with the theme on love. This is personified in the four main characters: Dorothy, the straw man, the tin man and the lion. These four individuals set off to see the wizard. Their desire to see him is not without dangers and toils along the way. But this is their aim and goal- to see the wizard. They don’t know what to expect as they have never met him. When in Munchkinland, Dorothy asked if he was good or wicked? She is told he is good but mysterious. The four of them, along with Dorothy’s dog Toto, believe that their only hope in getting what they desire is to see him and ask him for it. What did they want?
The straw man wants a brain. The tin man wants a heart. The cowardly lion wants courage. And Dorothy wants to get home. These four characters personify our complete humanness. The mind, heart, soul, and strength. The straw man wanted a brain. A mind to think with. Yet, of all the others he was the one who had the ideas and came up with the plans. The tin man wanted a heart. Yet it was he who could cry himself to rust and displayed the deepest emotions of the group. The lion wanted courage or the show of physical strength. Oddly enough, when it came to saving Dorothy he momentarily mustered up the nerve with a desire to fight off all foes and rescue her. And there’s Dorothy. The soul or will of the group. She alone had the will to continue when the others teetered on giving up. We see these same four human traits spoken of by Jesus:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, and with all your heart, and with all your strength and with all your soul.” Mark 12:30. ESV
If we are to reach the Celestial City it will be seen in our love for God. It is a single road. Jesus said the road was narrow (Matthew 7:14). And if we are to love Him completely it will require every part of us completely: mind, heart, strength and soul.
Just like our travelers who journey to Oz: For them to reach the emerald city and receive what they desire they must seek with all mind, heart, strength and soul or will the wonderful Wizard of Oz. This is what it will take for them to see the wizard. The longings for what they want can only be met through him. The lesson from Oz is this: do we as Christians have the determination to journey down this perilous road called life for the purpose of knowing that the Lord alone is the only one who can fulfill our deepest desires?
The second theme is perhaps the more bewildering. It is the way in which God sometimes chooses to reveal himself. Let’s resume our story:
When our four trekkers reach the Emerald City they soon discover they are not fit to see the wizard as they are. So they undergo a thorough cleaning and primping compliments of the Emerald court. They come to the massive entry doors where they are stopped by a guard, who is the wizard in disguise! He refuses admission but then breaks down crying upon hearing their sad story. With new found hope and jittery nerves, like the Old Testament priests entering the tabernacle, the four of them walk into an ominous room where a voice thunders and a large face appears amidst an altar of fire. Fear strikes them all. They are told if they really want what they desire they must defeat the wicked witch with proof. They must return with the witch’s broom. They succeed and return with what the wizard ordered. But he tells them to come back another day. Just then Toto, Dorothy’s dog, goes to a curtain and pulls it open. And aha! Off comes the mask! There is a man pulling levers and speaking into a microphone. Now exposed they see the wizard for who he really is and insist on getting what they long journeyed to possess. The wizard approaches them and with great wisdom and consolation he grants them their desires.
It might do us well to take a cue from our fictional friends. God is mysterious in how he reveals himself. We see it throughout scripture. Who we think God is may be a lot different from who he really is. Just ask Adam, Jacob, Job, Jonah or the apostle John. If we could only realize that behind the face of a Lion is the heart of a Lamb. We may ask why would God represent himself in this way? I believe it is to see if we really desire to do his will and to know him more intimately. It is the divine way in which he draws us to himself. When situations in our lives become more difficult and our prayers are not immediately answered we have two choices: give up or press on. Sometimes God seems distant and the heavens are as brass. We may think, Where is He? And sometimes he puts us in what seems like impossible trials. But he will never give us more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). We may think, Why is God doing this to me? It may be in order to stir our faith and seek him all the more. The question is: How badly do we really want him?
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Romans 11:33 ESV
How unsearchable his judgments. How inscrutable his ways. God is mysterious. Taking us where we would rather not go and asking of us what we cannot do. The gospels abound with instances which show us a Savior who is mysterious and puzzling to our rational minds. Did Jesus himself not order his disciples to set sail and yet they found themselves in a life threatening storm?(Matthew 8:23-24)? Did he not tell his apostles to feed a huge crowd knowing they hadn’t the money to cater such an event (Mark 6:37)? Did not the Holy Spirit lead Christ first not to preach, but into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1)? Did not Christ disguise himself as a gardener to a woman who so dearly looked for him (John 20:15)? Did not Christ at first refuse his grace to one foreign woman- calling her a dog, and yet after much persistence she received his grace and love by healing the woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28)? Did not Christ appear unconcerned by postponing a visit to a dying friend (John 11:6)? Did not Jesus instruct professional fisherman that they had been casting their nets on the wrong side of the boat (John 21:6)? Did gentle Jesus surprise his followers when he brandished a whip and cleared the temple of religious profiteers (Matthew 21:12)? Did not Christ ask his friends to join him in a prayer vigil at Gethsemane only to find themselves fighting for their lives (Matthew 26:36-56)? And how is it he can speak to wind and waves and they listen! (Mark 4:39)? And who ever heard of the medical practice of applying muddy spittle to the eyes of a blind man to restore his sight (John 9:6-7)? This man named Jesus of Nazareth is very mysterious indeed.
Our four travelers in Oz wanted an audience with the mysterious wizard so much so that they were willing to risk their lives, obey his command and face the evil witch to get what they desired. How about us? Can we put our faith totally in God who many times will act in ways which seem contrary to what we know of him? If we would but pullback the curtain by faith we would most certainly find an all wise and benevolent God. Just as Richard Sibbes observed:
“Faith pulls of the visor from His face, and sees a loving heart under contrary appearances.” Richard Sibbes from his book The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax
© Steve Covarrubias copyright January 2016