God is not afraid of danger, pain, or death. And he’s not afraid of seeing his loved ones on paths that will lead us through all three. In fact, he guarantees that every one of us will experience danger, pain, and death.
This is the kind of world God created. It’s the kind of world that shapes our souls. It is the crucible that refines us.
The creation story itself includes elements that its original readers would have recognized as dangerous or chaotic.
Before God starts speaking his creation into being, two things that ancient world would have agreed upon as chaotic and dangerous already exist — the dark and the deep (Gen. 1:2; Gen. 1:1 is a summary of all that follows). Darkness has always been the region of the unknown, the criminal, the nocturnal predator, the unseen stumbling block, the monsters of our imaginations. The watery deeps of the seas and oceans are untamable and were especially dangerous before modern ship building, sucking sailors to their deaths and avoided by the rest.
Rather than banishing these chaotic elements, when God does his creating, he does two things to both of them. He names them and he limits them.
There is no creating of the darkness, but it is called “Night” and is bounded by light (Gen. 1:3-5). Likewise, there is no creating of the deep, but it is called “Sea” and is collected and bounded by sky and land (Gen. 1:6-10).
I find this theologically and practically significant. God doesn’t create these chaotic elements in the world. But neither does he banish them. Instead, he incorporates them into his creation and uses them throughout his story of salvation.
The Flood story is a case of the dark and the deep breaking through their boundaries with God’s permission only to be bound up again at the end of the story. Similarly, in the Exodus, when the children of Israel escape the clutches of Egypt, there is darkness as they go through the sea … on dry ground and led by a pillar of light. Evil is behind them and chaos all around them, but God and his boundaries are victorious. And the chaos rebounds on evil, swallowing it up.
At the end of the Scriptures, when the new creation dawns, these two pre-creation elements of chaos are eliminated, their purposes complete. This is why there is no longer any sea (Rev. 21:1) nor night (Rev. 21:25), at least metaphorically.
One other note from the creation story is the inclusion of the sea monsters (Gen. 1:21). The taninim were anti-creation monsters in the myths of surrounding cultures. But in Genesis and in Psalm 104:26, they are created for God’s pleasure and purposes. They are dangers that bring dread on humans, but they are intentionally included by God in his very good creation.
(I will leave the sticky issues of the satan and the unclean spirits aside for now, though I do want to acknowledge them as part of this conversation.)
We can see that God is comfortable with the chaotic and the dangerous. In fact, he has intentionally and purposefully woven them into the fabric of his creation. They serve his purposes and move them toward his goals. They may seem to stand against God from our perspective, but they don’t.
When Jonah gets tossed into the dark and raging sea and is swallowed by a sea monster, all three of these chaotic elements serve the God of creation in his salvation of Ninevah.
When Jesus falls asleep in a boat and a storm arises, he calms the wind and the waves with a simple rebuke, revealing his true identity.
When the apostle Paul is being transported in chains over the Mediterranean, God warns him of the impending storm and saves him from it, showing his power and the truth of Jesus to all the survivors of the wreck.
Creation has teeth. God has armed his world with dangerous weapons. And pain and destruction and death are never far away. But it’s always mixed with the good.
We see this practically in a kinds of things that can be turned to creative or destructive ends.
Alcohol, which can clean wounds and make the heart merry, can also destroy homes and careers and lives. I know its teeth. I have a sister who was killed by a drunk driver.
Sex, which can bind husband and wife together and bring children into the world, can also rip apart marriages by being turned inward in selfishness or by being turned outward in adultery or by being turned off. I know its teeth. I am close to and impacted by all three.
A gun, which can put food on the table and offer sporting play in controlled settings, can also start wars and kill the innocent. I know its teeth. I know too many whose military services have been needed and we’ve seen the horror of guns being brought to schools.
Computers and phones, which can connect people across long distances and provide digital tools to enhance our lives, can also suck away our lives in video games, sex sites, cat videos, Facebook posts, and endless email. I know its teeth. I have wasted too much of my life in empty digital pursuits.
Cars, food, TV, music, money, drugs, and on and on. Each of the things that adds to us also takes away from us at some point. Always.
This world is a dangerous place. We play with snakes. Every day is a danger. Pain is never far away. Death hangs over us at every step. And God is fine with it.
Thankfully, God doesn’t set us on this path alone. Not only has he given us one another to walk it, but he has walked it with us. And Jesus bears the scars of nail wounds to prove it. He knows the danger, the pain, the death from the inside like we do.
But that isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.
God also has his purposes in mind at all times.
Pain has the ability to wake us up to things we need to avoid and to things we need to embrace.
Pain has the ability to refine us, burning away what is excess and harmful.
Pain can hone us, exercising our bodies and minds.
Pain reminds us that we don’t know everything and inspires us to learn more.
Pain can stop us from doing serious damage to ourselves.
Pain can force us to reconsider our circumstances and move toward needed change.
Pain points out the significance of a situation.
Pain can remind us of all that is right and good in our lives by highlighting what isn’t.
Pain can bring clarity to what is important and what isn’t.
Pain reminds us that we aren’t immune or immortal, that we don’t have what it takes to do this like on our own, that we need God.
And our dislike of pain points to a future beyond pain that we were created for and hope for.