East and Central Africa are home to some of the most spectacular game parks in the world. People trek to this part of the globe for the sole purpose of catching a glimpse of the Big Five in their natural habitat. The Big Five is a term coined by African hunters to denote five animals that have earned the reputation and possess the hardware to reverse the hunter and hunted roles in the lethal game of ‘bush tag’ (and sorry ladies, the giraffe is not a member of this group even though it appears on t-shirts). The killing squad includes elephant, leopard, rhino, cape buffalo, and lion. These make the honor role of Africa’s deadliest.
Among these it seems the lion is most revered. Once you’ve had the experience of making direct eye contact with a wild lion only a few meters from your ‘convertible’ safari vehicle it is forever etched into your memory. This experience is much different than observing a lion in a controlled and contained environment. It truly is an awesome experience!
I wonder if sometimes our view of God is more like that of a zoo lion than as a freely roaming majestic carnivore camouflaged among the tall grass on the savannah? It’s easy to do, but it’s also very dangerous. Do we approach God casually and handle His Word carelessly? We don’t like to admit this, but it does happen.
A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Have you ever observed a lion at the zoo? It’s a pitiful scene. Caged, confined, and lulled to sleep by systematic feedings and cramped quarters.
- we pay our fee.
- we enter at our leisure.
- if we get bored we casually move on to see the next caged critter where we can buy a Coke on our way.
- we text in between viewings, and in our curiosity we might even read the description (Name: Lion. Type: Mammal. Diet: Carnivore – oh, I am on his list of meal options. ”Big deal!” Size: head and body, 4.5 to 6.5 ft. weight 250-550 pounds).
- many people don’t even read the placard because they are convinced they already know what they need to know about the lion – he is predictable and inactive.
- we peer down at him – unimpressed, and after a few minutes disinterested.
- we look at the lazy beast anyway because we did pay money to get in and he is part of the show.
- from our superior position of ‘freedom’ we gaze upon this ‘so-called’ king of the jungle.
- smugly we view him from the safety of a box we have contained him in.
- what most people see is a harmless, inactive, overgrown kitty-cat… quite harmless frankly.
Honestly, how dangerous does he really look to you? Haven’t many of us silently harbored similar thoughts about the Lion of the tribe of Judah? We question His power, His Sovereignty, and conclude that just maybe we have assumed too much about His omnipotence. We have overvalued our part in salvation thinking that somehow we merited favor with God while others just didn’t measure up. While overestimating our own value we underestimate Christ’s part. At times we view Jesus’ meekness as contemptible. Why not fight back like a real man? Maybe we have believed too much? These attitudes surface as we enter a building set aside for worship where we customarily sing the words of a song (more interested in the oldness or newness or style or how my voice sounds to the person near me); we give a token acknowledgement as the offering is collected (guilt money? tax purposes? just to stay in good favor with those who count the money?); we bow our heads even though our minds are on the game, on lunch, on the girl, or on something else (all the while our heart is unattached and our spirit disconnected); we watch the talking head bobble behind the pulpit but grow frustrated at the total irrelevance of what he seems to be saying; but we paid our entry fee so we might as well enjoy the zoo. By the time all is said and done and we’ve clocked our religious duty it actually resembles a circus where God is simply the sideshow to what man really wants to accomplish with religion.
I had the opportunity to go tent camping in the Masai Mara with two friends. We went during the wildebeest migration since the lions would hopefully be well fed on ‘the other white meat’ (okay, it’s not really white meat). The buffet of wildebeest and zebra gave us some assurance that a confrontation with a hungry man-eater near our campsite was less likely. I remember setting up my three-man Kelty among a small grove of trees during the daylight when everything was well lit and the sounds were familiar. As the sun set everything horrifically changed. Africa comes alive at night. It’s part of what I love about the bush. Nearby we heard the snapping of medium-sized trees as a herd of elephants strolled near our campsite. The taunting laughter of hyenas echoed in the distance as they scavenged the savannah for leftovers. A few hours later, an unmistakable sound pierced through the African darkness like a Masai warrior’s spear tip. A pride of lions waking, roaring, and readying themselves for a night of ambush and gorging. I didn’t sleep much that evening. I felt a strange emotional mixture of enjoyment and anxiety – awe and awfulness. I slept in the center of the tent with my hands away from the tent’s nylon walls. I’m not sure what safety a thin layer of fabric would do. Even the mosquitos had already infiltrated my ‘safe haven.’ I suppose it provided a small layer of camouflage as long as my human silhouette was not advertised by a flashlight to an alert carnivorous beast. That evening taught me a lot about God (the Master of the Masai Mara). I was in tune with nature, aware of every sound, honed in on my surroundings, and keenly conscious of my vulnerability. This was an entirely different experience than my passive viewing of an incarcerated lion at the downtown zoo.
I think of Lucy’s question to Mr. Beaver about Aslan in the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Is he—quite safe?” Mr. Beaver responds, ”Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Lessons from the Wild Lion:
- God is not the inactive lion at the zoo where we get to regulate His viewing times and His feeding schedule.
- The heavens and earth are God’s African savanna where He roams freely and does what He wills.
- Yahweh is the Sovereign of the Serengeti; the Lord of the Luangwa; and the Master of the Masai Mara.
- Fear is an appropriate emotion when we realize who God is (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10).
Millard J. Erickson stated, “One’s view of God supplies the entire framework within which one’s theology is constructed and his life is lived.”
Your real view of God is evidenced by your values, your choices, your loves, your hates, your worship, and your life.
One thinks clearly and carefully and acts reverently and deliberately when in the presence of the Lion.
- Jeremiah 10:6 There is none like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is great in might.
- 1 Chronicles 16:25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods.
- 1 Chronicles 29:11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.
- Nehemiah 1:5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments…
- Psalms 47:2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
- 1 Timothy 6:15 the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
- Revelation 4:11 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”