The Fear of God

C.S. Lewis on the Numinous:

Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.” This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.

~The Problem of Pain, p. 17

I haven’t found a passage of writing that captures this well the nuances of the fear of God in Scripture. The concept is often easily misunderstood, especially when divorced from passages like 1 John 4:18, and Romans 8:1.

Calvin argued that this sense of reverence is essential for prayer. The Psalmist tells us that God’s grace is accompanied by this kind of fear:

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

~Psalm 130:3-4

Beggars all

Francis Spufford:

What we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, “stuff” here including… promises, relationships we care about and our own well-being and other people’s… [You are] a being whose wants make no sense, don’t harmonize: whose desires deep down are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to at the very same time. You’re equipped, you realize, more for farce (or even tragedy) than happy endings… You’re human, and that’s where we live; that’s our normal experience.  quoted in Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Spufford’s statement captures the element of disorder and confusion that is common to our experience but not easy to describe. My conception of sin- of how deeply I am flawed- needs to be grounded more concretely, however. My desires and loves are disordered, but what does order and virtue look like?

After reading this several times through I remembered a section of a sermon by John Piper. He asks, “What is sin?”:

It is the glory of God not honored, the holiness of God not reverenced, the greatness of God not admired, the power of God not praised, the truth of God not sought, the wisdom of God not esteemed, the beauty of God not treasured, the goodness of God not savored, the faithfulness of God not trusted, the commandments of God not obeyed, the justice of God not respected, the wrath of God not feared, the grace of God not cherished, the presence of God not prized, the person of God not loved. That is sin.

After reading these quotes alongside each other, I had quite a bit to think about today.

Laying It Down

This guest post is written by Matt Bulman. Matt works construction, spends time with his wife and three boys, and follows Jesus with the people at Harvest Bible Chapel in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

                When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. – God turning down David’s request to build a permanent temple for Israel to worship God.  II Samuel 7:12-13

“Lead me to the end of myself, take me to the edge of something greater.”  -Frontiers, Vertical Worship

 

You ask me to lay this dream down, this house I’ve wanted to build for you. You say you have another plan, something better for me, a bigger picture that I can’t yet see. You ask me to lay it down, to walk away from my good thing, my great gift for you. I know you say I can’t have it, but God you know how much this hurts. Forgive my hesitation, my unwillingness to trade the certain for the not yet. Let your patience hold you a little longer while I hold this dream as it breathes its last. I’m going to let it go but God you know this is hard.

Why can’t I see your bigger picture? What do I do when my dream looks better than your promise of potential blessing? How do I lay down this good thing I want when I can’t see what you promise in return? Why are the hard times all mine? Why do I get the tears, the agony, the blood and war and another gets the victory celebration?

You command me to walk away, to let another fulfill my dream. You demand my sacrifice, but reject my plan for how to make it. You desire my worship, but rip away my offering. You answered my prayers, saw my tears, fought my battles, and worked my miracles. You are my rescuer. My stronghold, my fortress, my rock, my deliverer, my defender, my shield. You were a forest fire of hope in the middle of the darkest nights. Every hard time you were there and I learned to trust you in the chaos. But why were the hard times all mine and the rewards destined to go to another? I know you say I’m on the edge of something greater, but forgive me, it is so hard to see that from where I’m standing. I just can’t see it and I don’t understand.

But I will lift my eyes to yours and call this back to mind, you are God of gods and Lord of lords and your steadfast love endures forever.  These battles were mine but the victories are yours and your steadfast love endures forever. The hard times were mine but you are the rescuer and the redeemer and your steadfast love endures forever. The tears were mine but you are the prayer answerer and your steadfast love endures forever. It is enough for me that your steadfast love endures forever.

Who am I that you would keep your eye on me? Who am I that you never turned away?  Who am I that you brought me here? And who am I that you would promise me anything? Your love for me is enough, and your steadfast love endures forever.

Bonhoeffer on Confession

dietrich-bonhoeffer3Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, and an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as are we, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God- whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from the real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Togetheremphasis mine.