A Brief Theology of Intensity

I love intensity. I enjoy spicy food and black coffee. I would rather experience the intensity of a Crossfit workout than go on the elliptical machine. And when it comes to music, I enjoy a wide range of artists, many of whom are bands that you probably wouldn’t like. (Check out one of my all time favorite songs by a band called Norma Jean. Warning: it’s intense.) 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I listen to classical music and drink La Croix. But on most days, I enjoy a level of intensity that many people probably wouldn’t enjoy.

The Bible is Intense

This affinity for intensity is one of the reasons why I love the Scriptures. Have you ever read certain passages and thought, “my word, that is intense!” Maybe certain verses come to mind, but if not, here are a few for you to check out. There are so many to choose from, but these should help you get the basic idea. Warning, they’re intense.

Numbers 16:31-33, 2 Kings 2:23-24, Judges 15:1-15, Galatians 5:11-12, Revelation 19:11-16

As a side note: one of the reasons why we wince at passages like this is that our modern world is so much less intense than the ancient world. For the majority of human history, things like disease and warfare and famine are the norm. For all the blessings and comforts of the modern age—comforts that I am thankful for—we can struggle to relate to the writings of the ancient near east because our culture and context is so different.

The Intensity of God

One reason why the Bible contains this type of intensity is because God himself is intense. Deuteronomy 4:24 (among other places) calls God a “consuming fire.” Notice that God is not simply a fire, but he is a consuming fire. That’s the type of fire that leaves nothing behind. Solomon reflects a similar idea when communicating how potent love is: “For love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (Song of Songs 8:6). 

When Jesus came in the flesh, people were often surprised at the intensity of his teaching and his actions. Jesus overturned tables. Jesus called the religious leaders unflattering names. And, let’s not forget, Jesus experienced the intensity of the cross. The physical torment of a crucifixion is so intense that a whole new word was invented to describe it: excruciating. But the physical torment pales in comparison to the spiritual intensity of taking the sins of the world upon himself.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
— 1 Peter 2:24

The Good Side of Intensity

I can imagine that some of you are stressed out just by reading this. (Your stress is probably elevated if you listened to the song that I linked to above). But hear me out: intensity can be a good thing. Intensity can be good because it reminds us that sin is a really big deal, ravaging the creation that God created and loves. Intensity can be good because it reminds us that we are in a spiritual war against a very real enemy. And intensity can be good because it pulls us out of the slumber and apathy of our comfortable, American-dream lives.

The Bad Side of Intensity

No doubt, this quest for intensity can turn bad quickly. First of all, nobody can live at “eleven” all day every day; the Christian must remember that our God is also a God of peace and Sabbath rest. Additionally, an unrelenting quest for intensity can lead to disappointment when we expect every moment of every experience to be “amazing” or “epic.” And of course, when pursue greater and greater intensity without ever pulling back to appreciate the subtle and sublime, we become desensitized and numb. 

In fact, that numbing effect perfectly describes the escalation of addiction: what used to get us high doesn’t work anymore. I would argue that America’s addictive worship of sex is why TV shows today show more graphic and violent sexual content than ever before, because simply seeing a person disrobe just doesn’t excite us any more. Even secular writers are starting to note the disturbing escalation of sexual violence in TV and movies. For example, read this lengthy piece from Ellen VanStone.

God’s Radically Intense Love

Ultimately, our desire for intensity finds its satisfaction in Jesus: his radical, unrelenting, unfathomable love. King David sings that God’s love is as vast as the expanse of the heavens (Psalm 36:5). The Apostle Paul speaks of God not just being merciful, but being rich in mercy; not just having love but having great love (Ephesians 2:4). And Jesus’ beloved disciple John tells us that God has lavished his love upon us by adopting us into the family of God through Christ Jesus (1 John 3:1).

One of the songs that we sing on Sundays says it well:

There’s no limit to your love
No bottom to your ocean
No top to your mountain
No end to your sky

Apart from Jesus, our thirst for intensity can get us into a lot of trouble. But in him, we find the deepest, truest, most intense experience that a human being can have: his grace.


**Disclaimer: I wrote this blog post while listening to the music of Norma Jean. Sorry if you clicked on that song and were forever scandalized.