The Bible offers a view of God that terrifies as much as it gratifies. Psalm 97:5, when describing God processing throughout the earth in judgement reads, “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,” it reiterates, “before the Lord of all the earth” in case the vision of the mountains melting like burning candles isn’t powerful enough. This Being is no trifle, no token kindly grandfather. This is the Ruler and Maker of all that is.
My thoughts drift to Jordan B Peterson. I cannot help but compare his impact with that of Jonathon Edwards, widely regarded as one of America’s most important theologians, whose “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was widely read in its day, and instrumental in the first Great Awakening. Edwards, who urged his listeners to respond to God in repentence and faith, espousing conduct to be the sole test of conversion, at one time was not fully satisfied as to his own conversion. Both men deliver a view of the God who demands perfection as a terrifying one, one whose exacting requirements we know at the outset we cannot satisfy.
It has been relatively easy to be first-world believer. The lines have fallen into pleasant places. Not much has been required of us beyond church participation and abstaining from the grievious vices as outlined by the mainstream churchgoing public, and even then vice when indulged, is easily covered sans consequence, by grace, that velvet cloak of invisibility.
Of late, the common–even the evangelical’s I’m afraid–view of God has shrunk to a toy-sized version of the God revealed in Psalm 97 whose fire consumes his foes on every side. After all in this new age of power-shaming what can one do in the face of such absolute power? The faith of our fathers, especially those who were tortured and killed for their faith, has been reduced to a statement of faith, and at most a dunk in warm water in the presence of applauding well-wishers.
Refusing to be ‘put in a box’, Peterson, with the clarity of a non-conformist, sees through our game and when confronted with the question of his own stance on faith is terrified. Or if not terrified, reticent in the extreme. “How could anyone measure up to this?” he asks, his voice trembling with the knowledge of the enormity of the sacrifice asked. We strain to respond, “but grace…?” praying that he finds it. And yet, Peterson’s words ring strangely true. How can we have missed the profound truth he espouses in his refusal, and how can he have missed, ‘so great a salvation?’
Yet, while refusing to to accept the mantle of traditional Christianity, he shoulders for us the criticism of those opposed to nearly every traditional value we hold dear. Well, not every one. He discreetly skirts around the homosexual question with the skill of a dancer, while confronting rabid ‘neo-marxism’, ‘intersectionality’ and ‘gender pronouns’ like a prize fighter.
He is one man opening a window to let out the stale air in the room. And oh, what fresh air rushes in!
His Biblical lectures, packed, sold out and still being viewed on the web, while peppered with the occaisional naughty use of God’s name, display a preacher-like wonder at the multi-layered plan for the universe. He uncovers the often hidden metaphorical meaning in the ancient texts and the relentless witness of the creation. One sees the hand of the Eternal One even in the phenomenon of Peterson’s own rise to notoriety. Through the lens of Peterson’s skillful craft, the God of the Universe is a genius once more. Why have we in the faith community not been able to articulate this?
I attended a Peterson lecture in 2018. His singular ability to riff brilliantly and seamlessly on matters of profound importance is staggering. His audiences, eagerly attentive, include people of all faiths and none. Men, women, young and old, Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims and Atheists alike welcome him eagerly. Nearly all, that is, but select College and University campuses where his ideas are often labelled as “unsafe”. At the heart of his message is one principle: “Tell the truth; or at the very least stop saying things that aren’t true.” This, ironically is being kept from the universities. One has to wonder why?
I shudder to think of a world without Jordan B Peterson.