Posted by: dacalu | 15 November 2009

Fear of the Lord

My meditations today are on this phrase, “The fear of the Lord,” which I think has been much abused.

Often I hear the fear of the Lord confused with the fear of Hell, or a fear of punishment, but this is as much idolatry as would be fear of the Lord’s footstool. The fear of the Lord has to do with the very concrete, visceral understanding that it is God who determines the path of our lives. God grants us free will and yet, in the end, we must confess that even that pales before God’s power; what freedom we have comes from God. Fear of the Lord is a letting go of our own control, but also an understanding that no other power in the universe can compete with God’s love for us.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

It may be the fear that God can place us in Hell, but it should equally be the hope that God can remove us from the same (no matter how much we may wish to be there).

For too long Christian preachers have taught us to fear the punishments of God. There was “hellfire and brimstone” and then “the rapture.” They said we should be worried that these would have power over us. “We must be ready.” But that is nothing like what Jesus said. We must be ready for his return. We must be ready to see God face to face–a thing of equal parts terror and longing. Terror because God can separate us from all that we hold dear. Longing because God has promised to separated us only from the evil that holds us back from becoming one with God and becoming our true selves.

It is this fear of God that allows people to be joyful martyrs. We do not fear judgment, for God has already died for us. Nor do we fear anything the world can throw at us, from despair and loneliness to vainglory and temptation; from torture to shunning, and even unto death. For all the power these things seem to have in our lives, they cannot make us truly ourselves–except should God will that this suffering be transformed into redemption–except that God use them as a fire to burn away our impurities.

Now, I do not claim that God does these things willfully, only that God has the power to use these things–once they have come about–to help us be more fully human in our response. God’s loving embrace will–and must–be far more consuming than the worst fires of Hell. The Adversary’s greatest threat is to leave you exactly as you are throughout eternity, without the transforming power of God or loving neighbor to make you more than you are. Even Job lost his future rather than his past. (The present is always with God and cannot be removed.) We Christians have hope and eternal transformation in the Lord. The greatest pleasures and the greatest joys will always be change and surprise–even if it is enjoyment of the continued grace of quiet order.

So I commend to you the fear of God, but never of God’s punishments. The fear of Hell is quite similar to fearing death, or the Adversary and that would be the antithesis of fearing God.

God will come to you and make you as you are meant to be. God made you in the very image and likeness of Divinity. God redeemed you from the world, saving you from every other power, so that you have nothing else left to fear–only the grace of God acting in your life. If you would fear God, turn your attention there.

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Romans 8:31

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