‘Is—is he a man?’ asked Lucy.
‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.’
‘Ooh!’ said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’
‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’
‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy.
‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.’
(C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
I sincerely believe there is no combination of words which I could concoct that would accurately describe the Fellowship to someone who has not experienced it. There are two things, I can confidently convey though—the Fellowship is not safe because it is centered around a God who is not safe, but both the Fellowship and God are good. God is unsafe because as C.S. Lewis says time and time again throughout The Chronicles of Narnia, “It’s not as if he’s a tame lion.” He is to be feared (Prov. 1:7; 14:26-27). He will not let me be comfortable in my sin (Lev. 5:17-19). He is uncontrollable; he does not fit inside of any of the sin-based boxes I try to put him in. Notice that Susan and Lucy were primarily concerned with their own comfort and safety when meeting Aslan. How often is this our primary concern as well when we encounter God? But a God of safety is not the God we serve. God does not concern himself with our spiritual and emotional safety. He is in the business of holiness and hard work, not complacency and easy work. The Fellowship strives to mirror this characteristic of God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3a says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” Sanctification is not easy; it requires dying to yourself and giving up your own comforts. It does not fit man’s definition of safe, but, behold, it is good.
Everyone who has done the Fellowship in any capacity has been called to it and in this case, the call reflects the Caller. The call is a call to be unsafe and broken if that is what it takes to follow Jesus. God promises us that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:32-33) and the Fellowship is no exception to that rule. God will not coddle my sin which is what I often want from him; he will make me uncomfortable if that means I look more like him. In my sinful nature, that sounds hard and unpleasant. However, any perceived trouble can be endured if you learn to behold the goodness of God which is rampant throughout all Creation. No lack of control or emotional and spiritual unsafety can overshadow the goodness that God displays through the Fellowship. When faced with hardships, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me through the Fellowship to say along with Mr. Beaver, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”
The Fellowship (and life in general) is hard and unsafe—that is the nature of our depravity. The Fellowship asks us to give of ourselves and sacrifice for the good of others. It also asks us to be vulnerable and open up to people in ways that make us uncomfortable. Because of my own sin, I have been asked and expected to do things I hate; things way outside of my comfort zone; things I feel underequipped and unprepared for; things that have broken and hurt me in ways I did not know existed. I have hurt and have been hurt by others. My sin and corruption have been laid bare before people I want to hide it from. Believe it or not, in a program designed to point others to deeper relationships with God, there have been times where I feel far from him. Speaking as someone who has suffered relatively little in life, there have been moments in the Fellowship when I have been saddened more deeply than any other point in my life. This is not for the faint of heart; this is for people who want to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you sign up for this, you will know pain and you will risk your own safety and comfort.
Here is the beautiful truth though—he is good! In the midst of all that risk and all that emotional and spiritual pain, there is good and not merely good but intense good. The risk of obeying God’s call has led me to becoming a more sanctified person. Doing life with these people has pushed me toward Jesus in ways that can only come from him. The blessings of pouring yourself out or calling out to God with a tight knit community of believers are immeasurable. Yes, I have been broken and shattered but I have also been reminded of my wholeness in Christ. I have fallen back in love with Jesus and people in general as a direct result of the Fellowship. Through the Holy Spirit, I am less cynical, more caring, more emotional and more passionate for others than I was when I started the Fellowship in August. My weaknesses and my strengths have been put into clearer focus. I am learning to abide in him. While there have been times when I have felt far from God, there have been still more when I have rested in the arms of my Lord and my Savior in fulness of life. Times of pure joy when I am filled with overwhelming thankfulness for this Fellowship and these people who love Jesus more than anything else in the world. All of this would be impossible if we served a God who was safe. In our sinful state, we need a God who is unsafe if we are to have any hope of becoming more like him.
That is how it is supposed to be. To be Christian is to be uncomfortable (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Risk refines and sanctifies, it breaks and guts, it teaches you to behold what is true, good and beautiful—the goodness and essence of God (Mal. 3:2-4). Good shines all the brighter when it exists in a world of darkness. This tension is what we have to learn to live with throughout this life and while at times it may be confusing, there is a beautiful goodness to it. It is why every good movie has conflict and why every good art piece has shadows and darkness—until all is made right at Jesus’ return, pain and discomfort enhances good. If there is one thing that I have learned over the course of this Fellowship, it is the simple act of beholding the good and the bad.
We often define “behold” as simply seeing, but in reality, the word is so much more powerful than that. To behold is to have a vision and perspective of something, especially in light of the Gospel. It is the ability to step back and be in awe of something for the simplicity of what it is. When we behold, we recognize something as sacred and beautiful. Depending on your translation, “behold” is used over one thousand times throughout the Bible. This includes instances of glory and reprimand—God calls us to behold both and both are good (i.e. Is. 25:9 vs. 26:21). In the middle of the trials of unsafety and the joys of goodness, I would encourage you to behold. In the middle of uncertainty and unsafety—behold! Behold God! Behold his goodness! His grace and his justice are equally worthy of praise and fear. May we not be so blind as to praise him for his comfortable grace and curse him for his uncomfortable justice.
When you stand in awe of the beauty of a mountain lake—behold! When you are enjoying good food with good friends—behold! When you are moping up sewage at 11 pm—behold! When you experience the joy of a couple’s union on their wedding day—behold! When you are consumed by the reality of a depraved world—behold! When you are thriving in the love of your community—behold! When someone hurts you and you feel like you will never mend—behold! When God pours his blessings down like rain—behold! When the suffering is chronic—behold! When you hold a newborn baby—behold! When the Lord justly punishes—behold! When you wake up to a world where God is still sovereign—behold! When the people you counted on to always point you to Jesus fail you—behold! When you experience daily goodness that can only come from God—behold!
Coming into the Fellowship, I was hoping and praying that this would be an experience that would refine me to look more like Jesus. Six months in and I can honestly say that while it has not taken the form of anything I imagined, the ongoing tapestry that is my life has been beautified. I have been made uncomfortable and as a result, I look more like Jesus today than I did yesterday. I am learning to glory in the nitty-gritty; to witness and behold God in every facet of this earthly life. God is not safe, but, behold, he is good!
- Ryan MacDonald