Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fearing the Lord

I confess that I've never liked all the Biblical language and commands about "fearing" the Lord. I thought it gave entirely the wrong idea of God as this great and terrible judge who will snuff you out at the slightest misstep, or an out-of-control cosmic force that could destroy us without warning. We shouldn't "fear" the Lord if we are in Christ, I thought, because He is for us, He loves us, He came so that we might have luck. 1 John 4:18 says that there is no fear in love, for God's perfect love drives out fear. A much better word than "fear" would be "awe", or "reverence".
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. - Psalm 97:5
Then tonight I was biking home from church. as luck would have it, I had failed to check the forecast and a thunderstorm was raging all around me. A few blocks form home, about seven lightning flashes in rapid succession lit up the neighborhood brighter than daylight, quickly followed by the loudest thunder I have ever heard, under a mile away and apparently directly overhead. And in that moment I realized what it really means to fear the Lord.
'But', he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.' - Exodus 33:20
It's certainly true that if we are forgiven in Christ, we don't have to fear being wiped out by God's wrath and judgment, or by some capricious outburst of power. Just like with the much-taller Oak St. parking ramp across the street from me, I didn't have to fear any physical harm from that lightning. But despite that, it was still terrifying in the sheer immensity of it--the flashing brighter than any manmade light and the boom that sounded like a bomb had gone off. As my friend Joe put it, "most people desperately strive to avoid feeling small", and I felt very small indeed.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. - Revelation 1:17
So God, in a literal flash of inspiration, conveyed to me something like what He spent several chapters explaining to Job. What I took to be a well-informed disagreement with the "fear" language was just my complete inability to grasp the sheer scale of the God who created not just lightning and thunder, but entire planets, stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies. "Awe" and "reverence" are inaccurate because they aren't nearly strong enough. In fact, "fear" probably wasn't strong enough for Biblical figures like Moses and John who came as close as anyone ever has to seeing God face to face.
Since, then, we know what it is to fear [φοβος, "phobos"] the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. - 2 Corinthians 5:11
So this is what I think is meant by "fear of the Lord"--our apprehending a Power unimaginably greater and more vast than ourselves, and our incredible smallness in comparison to it. May you know what it is to fear the Lord and spend your life (metaphorically) situated at the foot of His throne like John.

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