Many people today - Jesus followers included - tend to view God as loving, caring father figure. They say he is completely loving and longs to give us good things. All of that is true. We only need to look at passages like Matthew 7:11 which reads - "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" And then there is John 15:15 - "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." In other words, scripture backs up the attitude that God is loving and personal
But we fall short if that is where our attempt to understand the character of God comes to an end. This same loving God is also completely "other". He is the same God who refused to let Moses actually see him. God wasn't being mean. He just knows that we, in our limited, finite form, cannot handle seeing God face to face. I don't mean it would be difficult for us - I mean it would kill us! In Exodus 33, Moses asks God to show himself. God agrees to walk by and let Moses see his glory after he has passed. God's reason for this is clearly stated in verse 20 - "But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” I don't believe there is anything else in all of creation that would kill you with simply a glance.
If we limit our "understanding" of God to those characteristics that we find comforting and loving, we cheat ourselves and prevent ourselves from truly drawing close to him. As Manning states in Ruthless Trust, "We pay a price for steering clear of transcendence and unknowability. The loss of a sense of transcendence among believers has caused incalculable harm to Christian spirituality and to the interior life of individual Christians." That's a strong statement, I realize, and that's one of the reasons it caught my attention when I first read the book. But I believe he is right. When we ignore God's transcendence, we cheat ourselves. We set ourselves up to worry that there may be some situations he cannot handle. We fail to feel a sense of awe that the transcendent God is truly interested in us.
The challenge for any believe is to see God as both personal - invested in the lives of those who love him - and transcendent - holier than anything we can possibly fathom this side of glory!