a terrible beauty streams from god

a few nites ago before going to bed i spent some time in the book of job. reading from eugene petersons the message/remix i was stopped in my tracks by a phrase in job 37:13, 22

…a terrible beauty streams from god…

the weight of this single statement in a passage about the awesomeness of god really landed on me in a peculiar way and i could hardly fall asleep, my mind was so electrified.

in a basic sense ive known who peterson is for several years, and ive always appreciated the bits and pieces of his thinking ive come across. so in light of all this i decided to get to know him better as he seems the type of man by whom i might be quite inspired.

one book that i have heard some talk about is the pastor: a memoir and as i was searching around for some reviews i stumbled across a blog post that really has me thinking.

which is good.

reading the article opened a very unique window on what it means to be a pastor in america in this day and age. for example, at one point peterson says:

Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.

i completely identify with this. i have long struggled with the tension between the scriptural model of shepherding and church planting versus the current entrepreneurial model found on every pastor/church-planting website ive seen. as i traversed the path of discernment in trying to figure out if god was in fact leading me to plant a church my search continually led me to church planting initiatives that rely so heavily on entrepreneurship and business models that i began to wonder how the early church ever managed to grow without such concepts.

which leads to another of his quotes from the article:

I love being an American. But I don’t love “the American way,” its culture and values. I don’t love the rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed. The cultural conditions in which I am immersed require, at least for me, a kind of fierce vigilance to guard my vocation from those cultural pollutants so dangerously toxic to persons who want to follow Jesus in the way that he is Jesus.

i think its pretty obvious that rampant consumerism has infested the aisles of the church. what i believe is less obvious yet equally problematic is its effect on the pastorate. how many pastors have become culturally polluted and toxic? how many have allowed themselves to be guided by the same kinds of analytics that drive consumer based businesses and ended up with a church that only matters to a christian subculture?

the past several years worth of worship wars* are a perfect example…

i am in no way saying we should extract and isolate ourselves from culture. on the contrary i believe we need a stronger, more firm understanding of what it means to engage in culture without being corrupted by the cultural pollutants peterson refers to,  because i believe this is at the heart of the gospel. but this calls for a different approach than the one we have been using for the past 25 years; the one that has contributed to our increasing irrelevance in the world.

when i look at scripture, and specifically jesus in the gospels and the early church in the book of acts, what i see doesnt match up with what i see practiced in churches. and yet jesus and the early church consistently engaged their culture in relevant ways that drew people into the kingdom.

this is what i see missing in the american version of church. this is what i believe is wrong with the pastorate. and this is why the passage from job weighed so heavily on me the other night.

in the passage elihu is giving his take on god as part of a larger explanation of why job is suffering. he is attempting to convey the frightening awesomeness of the creator and the magnitude of his glory in light of jobs persistent denial of wrongdoing and desire to confront his maker concerning the atrocities visited on him.

and in the midst of it all he says:

…a terrible beauty streams from god…


what does that mean? a terrible beauty? is there such a thing?

consider the power of nature to which elihu was refering in the surrounding context.

storm-clouds…..torrential rain…..thunder…..lightning

this is awe-inspiring stuff and its frighteningly beautiful. so much so that we are drawn to it. yet we are forced to keep our distance and take shelter when such natural phenomena draw near. this is the point elihu is making.

and this is the point i hope never escapes my thinking: that the loving god i know as father is still the awesome god of all creation. that his power and might work in tandem with his love. and that ultimately i am responsible to him and not the marketing paradigms of popular culture when it comes to how i pastor and worship.

peterson calls for fierce vigilance and that takes effort. much of the time i havent enough energy to be fiercely vigilant and the values of the broken world around me quickly infect my thinking and practice. but after taking a little stock of where i am at, i think i cant afford not to be fiercely vigilant because a terrible beauty streams from god.

*check out this fascinating article from barna for more info on the worship wars


~ by graceshaker on June 5, 2012.

4 Responses to “a terrible beauty streams from god”

  1. terrible beauty…that is a mind twister brother

  2. Sometimes I miss our old conversations on CARM. If there is anything that god has been teaching me lately, it’s terrible beauty. My life itself is one terrible beauty. Not sure how any Christian life isn’t.

    • sometimes i miss carm for conversations with u and some others but mostly i dont bc it was a lot of hypertensive bluster.

      i still cant shake the terrible beauty idea. its like a thorn in my mind. i hadnt translated it from god to us tho and it takes on a completely different connotation for me when i think of it that way.

      like we are terrible and beautiful in a different way than god and yet he makes us terrible and beautiful like him…

      now uv got me thinkn!

  3. Agreed about CARM. Reminds me of a David crowder song… If he makes everything beautiful, what does that make me? Sure as… Shootin don’t feel beautiful. Feel peaceful tho. Which must be from him cause my situation could really really suck. But for some un earthly reason it…. Doesnt. Beauty from ashes.

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