One of my childhood friends taunted a gorilla. It was a sweltering summer day at the Busch Gardens Park in Tampa. He and another friend took shade in a tunnel, fashioned to look like a dirt mound cavern, along a dark cement path that ran beside the gorilla enclosure. As they watched the huge primate through a wall of glass inside the tunnel they noticed that it, in turn, was watching them back. It was a massive beast, leather faced, muscular, and covered with dark fur. They soon grew tired of the staring match and inched closer to the glass wall. Emboldened by the gorilla’s stoic reaction they moved forward until they stood right next to the glass. They waited wanting to be acknowledged but the gorilla watched them with the same bored expression he’d worn since they’d arrived. That was all about to change.
I want you to have an accurate picture of what happened so you can see it clearly. Dewayne was about 5’ 10 with dark hair, brown eyes, and a mischievous nature. He was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and Vans, a Converse Chuck Taylor styled skater shoe. Will was a bit taller, a bit meatier. His skin was lightly freckled. His hair was cropped in the style of the nineties and was a coppery red. Separate, they were funny. Together they were an unpredictable tornadic storm of hilarity.
Hoards of people walked through the tunnel that day totally unaware of what was about to happen. If they’d have known they’d have set both their drinks and children down and would have all been ready with their cameras. Instead, on theme park autopilot, overburdened with souvenirs and whiny tired children, they trudged past my friends and headed towards the hippo pool or alligator pond. If they had only stayed they’d have seen my friend dancing in front of the glass hopping from one foot to the other with hands curled up as if scratching his armpits. They’d have heard him chanting, “ooka ooka”. They’d have seen the boys’ expressions shift from red-faced laughter into bleach white fear.
Who can know the mind of a gorilla? I’m not sure if he’d been playing the two boys for his own entertainment, a monkey making humans dance, or if he’d finally had enough. What I do know is that suddenly his eyebrows drew together, his lip curled, and he rushed the glass. Before Dewayne’s dance had slowed the gorilla dropped his shoulder and slammed the sum total of his mass and brute force into the glass. A deep bass thud echoed across the tunnel as the impact shook the glass and the ground. In that moment both boys died a little. If you’ve ever seen one of those cartoons where the character’s body hovers above the ground while his legs run in a full sprint you can get the real life picture. The moment their feet, fully revved, hit the concrete path they both shot out of that tunnel filled with awe and terror. They were still breathing heavy when they shared the story with me hours later.
I wonder if we don’t sometimes view God the in the same way my two friends viewed that gorilla? We get that he’s infinitely powerful. We get that he’s, at times, ferocious. We also tend to think he’s trapped behind glass. Worse, we begin to use him for our entertainment, daring him to show us his power, as if he’s more impotent than omnipotent. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10 and Psalm 111:10 all tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning, or foundation, of wisdom. Dewayne and Will understand the power of a gorilla in a personal way that neither you nor I do.
Check this out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPxsaRnd_yU
Imagine, with me, walking down the sidewalk and into a Starbucks, your work, your school, or your church with a lion at your side. The lion is not on a leash and wears no collar. He is not your lion but you are, in fact, his. He could overpower you at any moment but has instead assured you that he is devoted to you and promised his protection. How would your day be lived out differently if you had a lion at your side? Would you be a bit more bold? Would the threats and condescension of others carry less weight? Would you go to places you’d never considered going to before and offer your assistance to people you’d normally shy away from? Would you share its story? Would you act differently if you had a lion at your side? Would you be tempted to intimidate? Would you become proud? Would you taunt it? Would you eventually take the lion for granted?
Now imagine the same scenarios with a lamb by your side. Would you be approachable? Would you be peaceful? Would you be meek? You know where I’m going with this. You know that, as followers of Christ, we do indeed have all that and more. Think about God’s people and how they reacted when God showed up. There was fear, trembling, respect, assurance, mercy, and mission. Unfortunately, we have latched onto the lion and let go of the lamb when in fact they lie down together. Without the lion mercy lacks its luster. Without the lamb judgment leaves us hopeless.
The truth is that we walk with both God’s power and mercy at our side and we must understand both in order to become what we are created to be. Tweet That Over the next few weeks we’ll explore this more fully. Here’s a small taste.
We must learn to accept that what we sometimes view as God’s complacency is actually God’s power expressed in mercy.
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Romans 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
I’m reminded in these verses that I often separate the lion and lamb and cry out for justice against others while at the same time wanting mercy for myself. Join me in thanking our all-powerful God for his endless mercy and mighty hand. What do you think? Do we need to fear God before we can fully understand his power and appreciate his mercy? Do we have a problem walking with the lion and the lamb? Let me know in the comment section below.
gorrila image taken from the san diego zoo website