catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 6 :: 2004.03.12 — 2004.03.25


Late-night thoughts on what it means to fear God

We shy away from that which makes us uncomfortable; we let cultural norms lead us into paths of comfort. And so it is that the notion of “fearing God” has become passé. We are much more desirous to speak of the friend we have in Jesus, of partnering with God, of God’s compassion. All of these are good and right. But to take scripture seriously is to take all of it seriously. And the scripture often speaks of fearing God. Get out a concordance and see! This is no trivial theme, no slip of the scribal quill from time to time, no dismissable single-mention-in-all-of-scripture idea (come to think of it, how often we build whole biblical positions on social issues out of one single mention: hats on in church, ladies!).

Fearing God is a refrain we need to ponder. What is fear? What happens when we are afraid? Often fear (not the phobic kind over which we have little conscious control) controls us. If we fear being poor, we?ll pursue financial security, perhaps even at the cost of our soul. What was that Jesus said about God and mammon? If we fear sickness, we’ll stay in a soul-killing job simply because it provides health benefits. If we fear being alone, we?ll compromise who and whose we most essentially are for the sake of company. If we fear being different, we’ll rush to the mall to wear culturally acceptable clothing and even provide free advertising to its maker since it’s emblazoned with a stylish logo! Hmmm, paying for the advertising of a company I just purchased an item from because of their advertising?

So, when scripture commands us (the tense is the imperative) to fear God, perhaps we are being cautioned to choose the object of our fear carefully and wisely. Don’t choose some lesser god to fear. Choose the God, the one who loves beyond our describing, on whose hands we are engraved, the one whose perfect love is, in truth, the only antidote to all the fears our world would teach us to live paying homage to.

And as well, to fear God is to balance all the user-friendly images of God with a much-needed reminder of God?s power, sovereignty and authority over our lives and all the world. In his book God Was in this Place and I, i Did Not Know, Lawrence Kushner describes the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple, a place so sacred that only one person, the high priest, ever entered it. He did so but once a year, on the Day of Atonement, there to do but one thing: speak the ineffable name of God which no one knew for certain how to pronounce. Just before the high priest entered, his assistants tied a rope around his ankle. Just in case he should drop dead in the majestic, awesome, fearful presence of God, they would be able to drag him out without sharing his fate.

Perhaps they knew something about fearing God it wouldn’t hurt us to recall.

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