Presence

When my friend Sue and I drove away from the Las Vegas airport headed for a tour of the National Parks of Utah, I expected to be impressed. Though I grew up in the mountains of Vermont and had taken in many of the east coast’s best views, I’d heard from several sources: “You haven’t seen anything yet!”.

As we toured the parks, I was certainly impressed, but what I didn’t expect was that one of my most awe-inspiring moments would not be a mountain, but a giant slab of rock in the middle of the desert.

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From a distance, the sandstone “fins” in Arches National Park looked cool and I was excited to hike among them. We saw many spectacular things that day, but I’ll never forget the moment I stood at the bottom of this and looked up:

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I couldn’t help but stand there for a minute, soaking in the sheer enormity and overwhelming presence of this rock. It seemed to rise up forever and also seemed like it might lean over and crush me at any minute!

People are annoying. We all have habits, quirks, and mannerisms that drive each other crazy. And though chewing loudly, pronouncing words incorrectly, or being unaware of personal space can be irritating, it’s the addition of our natural lean towards sin that really irks each other. All sin can be narrowed down to self-focused, self-interested, self-fulfilling behavior – and man, do we hate it when other people are selfish!

We can (at times) dismiss the rude cashiers, slow drivers, or the hygienically-unaware, but when someone else’s self-interest interferes with or threatens our plans, desires, comfort, or well-being, our brains (and blood pressure!) go into high gear and we respond with judgment.

Jesus is pretty clear in his rebuke toward our judgy behavior:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

In order to survive as humans, we need to judge. If our minds did not have the ability to discern right and wrong at some level, we would be in danger of extinction! The problem is that we take the verb “judge” and switch it to the noun “judge” by marching up to the bench, sitting down, and slamming down our verdict. Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3 was the potential to “be like God, knowing good and evil” and, since then, we’ve all been born believing we are the ultimate authority on right and wrong.

Though we do have the potential to be “like” God in many ways (we can be loving, joyful, patient, kind, gentle, and good) there are some ways we will never be like Him. Abilities like creating something out of nothing, having power over the forces of nature, giving life, and judging in complete, unbiased truth are reserved for God and God alone. The Judge’s seat is taken, there is no jury, and no apprentice positions are available!

A few weeks ago, after several years of begging and pleading, one of my kids finally agreed to read through the Chronicles of Narnia with me. We’re reading in chronological order, so we began with the prequel to the series, “The Magician’s Nephew”.

In this story, Digory (the magician’s nephew) and his friend Polly accidentally land themselves in a strange, dark world just in time to experience Aslan the lion’s creation and introduction of life to Narnia. Unfortunately, Digory and Polly also accidentally bring with them the evil queen Jadis, whose presence threatens Narnia’s peace and beauty.

Aslan sends the children on a mission to retrieve an apple from a special tree and bring it back to him. In the garden, Digory is tempted by Queen Jadis to use the eternal life-giving apple for his own purposes, but (*SPOILER ALERT*) he resists and returns the fruit to Aslan in victory:

“Well done,” said Aslan in a voice that made the earth shake. Then Digory knew that all the Narnians had heard those words and that the story of them would be handed down from father to son in that new world for hundreds of years and perhaps forever. But he was in no danger of feeling conceited for he didn’t think about it at all now that he was face to face with Aslan.”*

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When I’m far away I might feel big, but when I’m close-up and looking up, there’s no chance of being high on me. Putting myself in the presence of the only One who is all-present, all-knowing, and all-righteous is the best way to be reminded that I am none of those things (and that I may, in fact, be at the top of someone else’s “annoying” list!).

Holy Spirit, overwhelm my mind with so much awe and wonder at the sheer enormity of Your greatness and goodness that there’s no longer any room for self-conceit. Reveal to me today any situation where I have snuck up and tried to take Your judge’s seat. Interrupt my trains of thought when I believe myself to be the source of all truth and speak Your truth to me. Amen.

*The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 14

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