About six months ago, Lauren downloaded an iPhone app called Sleep Maker. I hate it, she loves it! Basically, if you enjoy falling asleep under the intoxicating sounds of nature, this app is for you. Melodic sounds of creeks flowing, crickets chirping, thunder roaring, birds harmonizing, waves crashing… and yes, you guessed it – frogs croaking. For a month straight, we listened to the setting titled “medium frogs near brook.” Of course, she always falls asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow, while I get to enjoy the full 45-minute duration of croak-age! Seriously, they should change the name of this app to “Sleep Stopper!”
We currently live in a housing development with an irrigation canal that passes through the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure that more frogs live in this man-made creek than humans in the whole sub-division. It makes me wonder if the plague of frogs in Egypt under Moses could even compare to our population of Kermit’s cousins.
When we take our dogs out for an evening walk, the croaking sound is wonderful. As long as this sound isn’t disrupting my slumber, I enjoy it quite a bit. For Lauren, it might qualify as one of her favorite sounds on the planet. She loves frogs from a distance.
But then there’s the other side of my lovely wife’s disposition towards these green wart covered amphibians. When it gets dark enough, she is terrified that a frog might jump out in front of her. This fear is somewhat justified as many of the frogs venture into the neighborhood to help cut down our insect population. The thing that brings her near the point of trepidation involves the possibility of stepping on a frog, which results in two negative results: 1) such a frog would lose its life, 2) said frog would make a “squishy noise” under her feet.
To summarize: Lauren loves frogs from a distance, but fears close contact.
The more I think about my wife’s love and fear of frogs, the more I’m reminded of my life with God.
From a distance:
- I sing songs about God.
- I study the Scriptures.
- I listen to dynamic sermon podcasts as I commute 40 minutes to seminary.
- I have deep theological conversations in coffee shops about the mysteries of the Creator.
- I prepare sermons.
- I read books about the way of Jesus.
In all these things, I attempt to engage God from a distance. I deceive myself into believing that these activities are guaranteed to lead me into closeness with Jesus. Sometimes they do, but more often than not, God feels far away. I think that I’m actually afraid of what it would cost to take my spiritual life to the next level.
I fear that close contact might mean self-sacrifice beyond the simple luxuries I might be willing to give up as a privileged American. If I get too close:
- I might lose my comfort.
- I might have to serve more.
- I might need to give my life fully to others.
- I might feel compelled to live in authentic and intrusive community.
- I might find myself in situations with people I’d rather not spend quality time with, because as much as I may abstractly believe that I’m called to love those in the margins, this takes work.
- I might even find myself in situations where turning the cheek is a literal demand!
If I am completely honest, most of the time I love God from a distance.
But there’s something more beautiful in this picture. All of the things I fear about getting close to God are the very kinds of things that Jesus did perfectly during his life! Whereas my tendency is to love God from a distance rather than up close, the pattern of Christ works in the opposite direction. Consider these familiar words from John’s gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1.1-3, 14
And then these words from the Apostle Paul:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! Philippians 2.5-8
Jesus doesn’t love us from a distance; he loves us by drawing near.
So, when we feel like our relationship with God is at arms length, may we remember that his arms spread wide open to embrace us all. When we feel guilty for the expanse between our lives and the life of God, may we be encouraged that the resurrected Christ invaded earth from the throne of heaven to eliminate all relational chasms between the Divine and us. And just as frogs may be wonderful from afar but scary up close, may we begin to realize that God comes close to us to cast away our fear. May God’s nearness to us empower our lives to bring Jesus near to those for whom God seems distant.