Friday, February 28, 2014

This In-Between Month, Day 12: The Fear of God

Today River and I shot a little pool, talked a lot about music and I realized again, looking at this young man who I helped make, that every second with him is such a gift of grace, every minute a miracle of mercy. As I dropped him off to spend the evening with his friends I was already missing him before I drove away. He is so bright, our conversations cover so many topics where I am way out of my depth. His questions make me search the depth of my experiences and hold fast to the promise that God gives us the words to speak when we need them. We talk about the church's role (if any) in politics. We often talk about Christianity in the modern age, at the crossroads of culture, and how the language we choose to use in communicating the gospel is crucial. One phrase that came up was "the fear of God". 

A web search for "fear of God" images and these were the first two that came up after a plethora of ads for some clothing company out of LA that sells 1000 dollar oversized understated neo-skinhead fashion...

That phrase, "the fear of God", seems to perplex so many (and it has always made me a little uneasy too). It has been used at times to bludgeon people into belief, others have dismissed it as an archaic concept, the personality of an Old Testament God who was replaced by a kinder, gentler, New Testament one, and by others still to reject Christianity altogether. We are told to love God for he is a gentle father, and then to fear God because He is a mighty warrior. And from the outside, and even the inside I suppose, this can make Him seem a bit schizophrenic .

As a Christian well immersed in “church” (and having at one point learned Christianese fluently) and, subsequently, living in a post-modern age where words have been emasculated, (and being no theologian), my response to the “fear of God” has always been a bit convoluted. I was taught, as a child, that this “fear” meant awe and wonder. And I still believe that to be one, large, dynamic part of it. But I think our system of awe and wonder may not big big enough for God. If a “2” is a litter of puppies being born then a “9” is River being born. The headroom for God is very limited. I say God is love. And then I say I love chocolate. The sliding scale starts in the finite but goes into the infinite. Words fail us and yet words are most of we have to communicate these concepts.

When I read the scriptures, it seems to me that fear is expected to be a huge part of worship and the relationship we are supposed to have with God. We're told the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That fear is for our protection, for our blessing, for our understanding, for all things in the universe to remain in order. It is this fear that is supposed to compel us to cherish our neighbor, to feed the poor, to be kind to the stranger. Hmmmm.... At the end of his days, Solomon, whom scripture calls the wisest man, summed it up to this. “Fear God and keep His commandments.” So than what is this fear? Again with the clumsiness of human terms, let me try and explain what I think it means. 

To me it is the acceptance of the sovereignty and perfection of a loving omnipotent God. It is the understanding that:

He answers to no man, but yet stoops so low to hear the softest prayer of the weakest saint. 

He can take or give without permission, be that life or riches or power. He owes no one a single thing and yet His generosity knows no bounds. He gave His son up to the dogs of hell for them to devour Jesus's flesh just for us, so that we might have eternal life. And then He makes us joint heirs with Christ of all of heaven's riches. 

He is beyond reproach, beyond any misgiving. He cannot lie. He cannot err. He cannot cease because He always was. And yet He calls us friends, we who are a ragtag bunch of rebels, liars, mistake makers, whose lives are a breath, a vapor, a flower fading.

He is all powerful and could at any moment, without our permission, end all life by grinding the big blue-green ball of earth to sub-atomic grit in His hands. But yet in His unfathomable tenderness He holds us gently, safely in His hands and not only does he not crush us, he keeps us from the crushing weight of all else. 

I believe, if His majesty were revealed, in total, to any created being, they would explode, or implode, (or worse) but that what stays His hand from exacting justice on us all is His infinitely merciful heart, is His promise to love those He has called children. Oh how He loves us! Infinitely more than we love Him. 

So then the act of fearing God to me, in the simplest definition, is the total acceptance of His complete control and incomprehensible greatness and of our total depravity and infinite smallness all wonderfully wrapped in the revelation that we were created for Him to love and that His purpose, His eternal plan, is fulfilled when He exchanges His wrath for us as sinners with His love for us as children. Then the invisible realms see the very nature of God and I suspect, they tremble too. 

Argh, that felt long-winded and not perfectly clear. I hope that it helps, and there are also some really good thoughts here.

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