When the young Lucy Pevensie first learns about the great lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she hesitantly enquires as to whether Aslan is “safe.” Her host, Mr. Beaver replies: “Safe … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That has always been one of my favourite exchanges in the Chronicles of Narnia. It evokes such a powerful image of God as so far surpassing human categories like “safe.” Aslan is a lion–an untamed lion. He is not safe. We cannot control him. We cannot pretend to understand everything about him. And yet he is good.
I wonder if the absolute incomprehensibility of God lies at the heart of the feast of St. Michael and All Angles, which we celebrated in the church earlier this week (September 29). I love Michaelmas (as the feast is traditionally called), but I have to admit that it can be harder and harder to find a place for celebration in a religious context that places more and more emphasis on relevance and accessibility of our traditions. What are we supposed to do with that a Christian festival where we read about Jacob wrestling with an angle or the story of the Archangel Michael defeating the great dragon in the book of Revelation.
Admittedly, I am a fantasy and science fiction geek. So the part of my spirit that is drawn to fantastical stories of mystical beings loves Michaelmas. Is is a Christian celebration that delights the imagination. How do you not love reading about the great dragon Satan and all his Angels fighting back against the armies of heaven before finally being defeated and cast down into the sea? (Admittedly, this blog post is being written by someone who once dressed up as Jesus from the book of Revelation for Halloween. I may have issues). But the question remains — what is the point of such a reading. What relevance does it have? What is its usefulness to life in a busy, complicated modern world to anyone other than a church nerd and a fantasy geek?
I wonder if maybe the “point” of Michaelmas is that it has no obvious point for us. The readings hang there — confronting us and confounding us with their seemingly inaccessible strangeness. We confess faith in God who is the maker of all things visible … and invisible. There is more to God and there is more to our world than we can ever possible hope to imagine, even in our wildest fantasy stories. Michaelmas challenges our desire to make God “safe.” Our tendency to assume that we can somehow claim to fully comprehend God’s divine nature or the spiritual world around us.
We (rightly) seek to make our faith more relevant in addressing the complicated issues of the world around us and we (rightly) seek to remove any barriers to entry for those who might be hungry to explore deeper spiritual questions. But I cannot help but feel we do a disservice both to our traditions and to the world if we are wary (or perhaps even embarrassed) of letting God be mysterious. God is not safe, as the great war of Michael and all the angels in heaven reminds us.
And yet God is still good. As we wrestle with the ineffable nature of God and the mysterious spiritual world around us, maybe there is a practical point for us in the celebration of Michael and all the Angels. One day the evil powers of this world — the systemic oppression of marginalized people, the rampant inequality that privileges the powerful over the powerless, the innocent suffering — will be defeated. Even if we do not understand how that can be.