Are we supposed to fear God? (part 2)

Photo by renjith krishnan. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by renjith krishnan. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Imagine that someone makes you sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. He sets down a bundle of dynamite in front of you, a mere arm’s length away. Then he lights a match and slowly reaches toward the fuse.

How would you react? If you believed that it really was dynamite, you might panic, thinking the guy was some kind of lunatic.

But consider this: every day, when we get into our cars, we sit comfortably oblivious to the controlled explosions happening only inches from our feet. We don’t fear that explosive power; we take it for granted, even complain when it doesn’t work.

Do we do something similar with God?

In the Old Testament, there are many stories of the fearsome power of God, perhaps most famously the exodus from Egypt. By the miraculous might of God, the Israelites crossed the sea on dry land, whereas Pharaoh’s pursuing army was drowned. When the people looked back and saw the dead bodies lying on the opposite shore, they didn’t cheer or exchange high-fives: they feared the Lord and believed (Exod 14:31).

In the New Testament, we might think of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ miracle of calming a furious storm that threatened to drown them. Again, no high-fives or hoorays: just jaw-dropping amazement as they asked each other, “Who is this guy (and what have we got ourselves into)?” (Mark 4:41).

As we saw in part 1 of this post, when Paul speaks of the fear of the Lord to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:11), he does so in the context of reminding them of the final judgment that even Christians will face when they eventually stand before Jesus. Paul is not cringing in anticipation, as if uncertain about his own calling or dedication to the gospel. Nor is it the fear of one who expects to be punished or abused.

But we’re not talking about standing before the mild-mannered Jesus represented in the portraits we tend to hang on our walls, the gentle soul surrounded by cute children and even cuter sheep. We’re talking about the one who comes, finally, as both King and Judge, the one who commanded the storm to be still, the one who appears in bizarre and frightening aspect in the Revelation to the apostle John. In Jesus, we will face the power of God: the glory that made Isaiah cower, that put the complaining Job in his place, that terrified the enemies of God’s people.

And yet… for those who are in Christ, this power is for us and not against us, to purify, to sanctify, to fit us for eternity in the presence of the Holy.

That’s the part I cannot grasp, and I know I’m not alone in this: in what ways am I deluding myself about my own sin? As darkness must flee before the light, so must my wickedness be revealed in the presence of the Holy One — for my own good.

So much the wiser, then, to fear God today (Prov 9:10; Ps 111:10) in the pursuit of holiness. The good news is that we need not do this alone: such is the great graciousness of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the church in which we learn wisdom together.

We must live today like we know tomorrow is coming, the tomorrow the Bible tells us to expect. It will be a day of reckoning.

But it will be also a day of glory, of receiving the final confirmation of our belonging, our adoption. It is only in that knowledge that we can say, Come, Lord Jesus — and mean it.