From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
Unsafe but Good
Feb 1, 2023
A little while ago the media reported that drinking only a couple of alcoholic beverages increases one’s risk of getting certain kinds of cancer in addition to increasing one’s risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. The media went on to say that increasing consumption greatly increases the risk of disease. We have long known that alcohol beverage consumption increases risk of heart attack and stroke, but it was new to me that alcohol consumption can also cause cancer. I looked it up online, and it turns out that recent studies have shown that consuming even a little bit of alcohol increases one’s probability of contracting certain kinds of cancers. Thus, ethanol consumption (the alcohol in beverages) has been listed as a Group 1 carcinogen (cancer-causing substance). It was interesting to note that the list is long and includes such things as exposure to radiation (we all knew that), diesel exhaust fumes, tobacco smoke (again, well-known), and even wood dust (they didn’t say what kinds of tree is the most dangerous) can all lead to someone getting cancer. The list contains scores of other substances, most of them manmade.
We can choose to ignore the list, perhaps at our own peril, but there is an argument being made that warning labels should be placed on alcoholic beverage containers much as they are on cigarette packages, thus leaving us without excuse regarding the carcinogenic nature of alcohol. The alcohol industry is balking at such an idea while health organizations are pushing for it. It has been shown in trials that when such labels are present, alcohol consumption decreases, and I suspect that in a few years we will be seeing labels on our alcoholic beverage containers. Whether or not they will be as effective as the labels on tabaco products remains to be seen. We do know that in most cases when we can limit or even avoid exposure to cancer-causing substances by keeping distant from them or covering ourselves with protective clothing. With tabaco and now alcohol, the only way to use the product correctly is to take it directly into our bodies. This is why warning labels are being advised for alcoholic beverages while they are not for lumber used for framing our houses.
I was reflecting on all of this when, in an odd twist of my mind, I asked this question: how does God fit into all of this? I didn’t start thinking about how God created all things and gave us the ability to build on his creation by making all sorts of substances, many of which are harmful, but, rather, I asked the question, “Like these many substances that could cause cancer, is God dangerous?”
In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis introduces us to Aslan, the king of the woods, and we discover that he is a lion. When one of the children asks if he is safe, she is told, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” One of the other children responds, “I’m longing to see him, even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” C.S. Lewis, of course, is using the lion to describe God to children so that they may understand him better. God is good, but he is not safe. Perhaps it’s a little trivializing to compare God to the substances we find and make here on this earth, but just as many of those substances are good (or at least useful), they are not safe. We approach them with caution, protecting ourselves against any harm they may cause us. God is good in his very essence, but we must recognize that he is not safe.
That God was not safe is well illustrated in Leviticus 10 where we read that Aaron the High Priest’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, entered into the presence of the Lord in an unauthorized way. They were burned to death by fire that came out from the presence of the Lord. It became evident to the Israelites that it was necessary to build a protective wall around God thus protecting the people from him. God is good, but he is not safe. Approaching God involves taking great precaution, and the High Priest, when he did approach God, offered sacrifices and cleansed his body and clothes so that he could draw near to God.
As we well know, it is the holiness of God that makes him unsafe for us. Holiness may not be violated, and thus, when something that is unholy gets near to God and threatens his holiness, it enters into great danger and will be destroyed. God may be good, but he is not safe. To enter into God’s presence, then, becomes impossible if we are not holy. It is simply not safe for us there.
We need to be protected, and we can be. In Hebrews 4:16, we read that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. In other words, we can enter into God’s holy presence, not with our knees knocking and our hearts beating fast in fear that we be destroyed but rather with confidence that God will welcome us before his throne and respond to us in a positive and loving way. It is through Jesus Christ that it becomes possible to be safe in the presence of God. Jesus, in a sense, becomes our protection, for it is him that we are made holy, if we put our faith in him and his sacrifice on the cross.
Perhaps God should have a warning label. “He is good, but he is not safe. Protection is necessary or death will result.” Thankfully, unlike tabaco, and now alcohol, which are unsafe if used in the way intended, there is a safety measure that we can always receive by God’s grace. Scripture warns us: God is not safe, but he is good. And it tells us of Jesus Christ who makes it safe to be in God’s presence. It comes as a surprise to many that alcohol is unsafe in ways we did not know before, and we would do well to heed the warning. If it comes as a surprise that God is not safe, but he is good, we do well to heed that warning and seek safety in Jesus Christ.