There exists a tendency in our American culture to think of ourselves as being on familiar terms with God. I am a friend of God proclaims the chorus of one popular Protestant “praise” song; Jesus is my homeboy states a trendy shirt design. Our Lord is much more comfortable if he is friend, homeboy, or Buddy Christ, and God the Father if he is little more than a senile grandpa upstairs who blindly loves all of his little grandchildren. A god that demands nothing from us and only exists to make us feel good is wildly popular, but is a false god created in our own image.
Many Christian groups have created a false sense of familiarity with God by removing awe and reverence from Christian worship. They have banished the priesthood (after all, we’re all priests anyway, right?); stripped the walls of sacred art; replaced a service focused on the presence of Christ with one focused on a sermon; and replaced architectural beauty with either four walls and a pulpit or something that looks more like a nightclub. All of this removes from us a proper sense of reverence.
When we fail to approach God with fear and reverence, the end result is a Christ-figure that wants to be our friend, wants to save us from hell, and hopes we’ll be nice people. A “relationship with God” becomes little more than a means to secure the most comfortable life both here and in the age to come.
When asked if people were becoming more pagan, CS Lewis once responded, “Would that it were true.” Why? Because pagans at least had some sense of their sinfulness and their lowliness before divinity. Lewis emphasized that we must know God as Lord and King before we can know Him on more intimate, familiar terms. After all, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) Today, I think there is little such fear, and the fear that I have witnessed is usually a distorted one in which people view God as an angry tyrant.
The Orthodox concept of salvation presents a radically different concept that is incompatible with the way people currently think of God. We believe that God made man in His own image, that man fell from that image through sin, and the separation from God through sin results in death. To resolve this problem of the tarnished image and the power of sin and death over mankind, God became man and united divine nature with human nature.
Rather than simply wanting to “wipe the slate clean” and return us to an Eden-like state, God wants to go well beyond that. He desires to transform each and every one of us into a holy creature that is forever united to His divinity. And that is the plan. All of us will be resurrected to unite to this holy God of all of the cosmos. However, the union will not be bliss for all.
When Christ came the first time, His divinity and holiness were veiled in His humanity. But it will not be so the second time. During His incarnation, he opened the veil a crack for only three disciples: Peter, James, and John on Mt. Tabor during the event we call the Transfiguration. The three fell to the ground at His sight, and the sound of the Father’s voice, unable to endure even a hint of this unveiling.
When He comes the second time, there will be no veil: only unmasked holiness. It will be terror and a burning fire for some, and it will be delight and illumination for others. How we respond depends entirely upon our efforts right now to be transformed by His grace. As the Apostle John wrote, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
God is not interested in merely wiping away sins so we can be buddies, but transforming us into divine creatures that eternally partake in His divinity. But will we be ready for the unveiling when it comes?