O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth. [Psalm 47:1-2 (KJV)]
The Lord is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people. Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy. [Psalm 99:2-3 (KJV)]
“He’s not a tame lion.” Anyone familiar with the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis knows to whom this sentence refers. Throughout the nine Narnia books, that same thought is expressed in various ways when describing Aslan. When the children discover that Aslan is a lion, they ask if he’s safe. “Who said anything about safe?” is the reply. “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Aslan, most definitely, is not tame. Something that is tame has been domesticated; it is predictable and can be managed, manipulated, controlled or taught. Although he is not tame, Aslan is good and, at times, that fact is forgotten. Perhaps it is because, as Lewis writes, “People…sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”
Although the King James translation uses the word “terrible” when describing God, most other modern translations replace it with “awesome” or a similar less terrifying word. Terrible, however, isn’t necessarily horrible. When describing God (or Lewis’ lion Aslan), it means tremendous, awe inspiring, formidable, intense, and fearsome. Our God is all these and more and He most definitely is not tame!
The children eventually understand that Aslan is intrinsically good; because the lion is good, it doesn’t matter that he isn’t tame. The same goes for God: if we truly believe Him to be good, we can trust that everything He does is good. When life takes a bad turn, however, we tend to lose sight of God’s goodness and love. We forget that His unchanging goodness and terribleness are inseparable and allow challenging circumstances to steal our confidence in a good God. Like Aslan, God can’t be evil any more than He can be tamed.
Afraid of trusting an unpredictable, fearsome and awesome God, we want a God who is tame—one we could tell what to do and how to do it. We wouldn’t need to please a tame God; He’d want to please us. He would coddle rather than challenge and beg rather than demand. A tame God would answer to us rather than hold us accountable to Him. Since a tame God would live to please our sinful nature, a tame God could not be good!
In Lewis’ books, the untamed but good lion brings the children into Narnia not to live bland or boring lives but to face foes, trials, and difficulties and become better for it. Nevertheless, they never face those challenges alone; Aslan is always there for them. In the same way, our awesome God does not call us to lead humdrum safe lives. He calls us to live far-reaching, uncompromising, purposeful, profound and often challenging ones. Jesus told His disciples to take up their crosses and have lives of radical goodness and love; He tells us to do the same thing.
Our God is not tame, but He is good; He is untamed love!