Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Sanctification: the Fear of the Lord

I'm a wee bit scared of God, and you know what? I think that's the way he wants it. It is the beginning of wisdom after all.

There's good reason to fear God from the testimony of Scripture. In the OT, for instance there's plenty to bring us out in a sweat. Take the fall of man in Genesis. God curses creation and puts a flaming sword between him and Adam. Do you want to feel the presence of God Adam? The only thing you'll feel is a sharp flaming machete ripping your flesh.

Then in Exodus, God, after annihilating the Egyptians with furious plagues, gives his law at Sinai to his covenant people. He warns the people not to get too close. "Even if your beloved pet lamb touches the mountain of my presence, smash its skull with a brick" says God. There's thunder, smoke and a voice so awesome the people beg God to stop speaking. "Oh Lord, we were have such a great time singing 'Shine, YHWH Shine'. Please stop speaking!" Even godly Moses was terrified.

Futher, the story of Uzzah shows that God is not to be trifled with. He said that the ark of the covenant must be carried by Levites. Instead the Israelites put it on a cart and when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, Uzzah merely put out his hand to steady the ark. Yet you know what? God didn't see Uzzah's heart for the safety of the ark. He saw irreverence; he saw a lack of fear and he struck Uzzah down. Even King David was dumbfounded. "He was a good bloke Lord! Why?" Yet God made no apology for his actions.

As we look at NT examples, there's nothing of the new meek and mild Jesus compared to the angry OT God. Paul says to the idolatrous Corinthians, "Don't test Christ". Why? Because the Israelites tested the pre-incarnate Christ and he poured out his fury on them in the form of destroying angels and snakes (yes I know! It was gentle Jesus killing these people! 1 Cor. 10:9, 10). The warning to Corinth is, "This is the same Christ you're testing here." Some had already tasted his stern discipline for profaning the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:29, 30)

(Indeed, if we're going to be proper Trinitarians, the wrathful God of the OT was the wrathful Father, Son and Spirit. An explicit example of the wrath of the Spirit is seen in the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira. They tested the Spirit of the Lord and he killed them (Acts 5:1-10).)

Perhaps the scariest example of God's fury is seen in Revelation 14. In verses 19 and 20 the wine press metaphor is employed. Instead of grapes being stamped on, its people. Instead of wine rushing out of the press, it's blood and the blood runs at about the height of a horse's neck for 180 miles. Guess who's doing the stamping? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild (ch 19:15).

If we are to fear God aright, the best place to look is the cross. When we think about the cross, a mixture of fear and relief should take hold of us. We fear the dreadful wrath of God when we see that he wouldn't even spare his beloved Son after making him to be sin for us. Yet we see that while God hated us, he loved us. While he should have poured out his fury on us, he took the blame himself and bore the wrath in the body of his dear Son. We fear God's hatred of sin. We fear the sin that still clings in our fallen bodies.

It's ok to be a little scared, yet not in the craven sense. We're not slaves to fear (Rom. 8:15) and God's love has driven craven fear away. We don't fear in the way a wife fears an abusive husband returning from work after a few drinks. But Paul tells us there is a good fear of God that will motivate our holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) It's a fear of falling short. A fear that we will prove to be false professors. It's a fear that admits it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

This biblical picture is a million miles away from our limp-wristed charicatures of a god who is so middle class in his manners, he would have negotiated the Ten Commandments and sent the Israelites to the naughty step instead of exile. We don't have a God who commands, who rules and who pours out fury on unbelievers. We've got a heavenly social worker who champions the rights of the disaffected instead of killing them for their nauseating cynicism.

I'm tired of singing crappy kids choruses to the tune of the Flintstones during worship. I'm tired of smirking chairmen. I'm tired of trendy youth leaders. I'm tired of singing homo-erotic hymns. Even though God has shown his love for us, we still must worship with reverence and awe. He is a consuming fire after all (Heb. 12:28, 29)


steve said...

I'm tired of singing homo-erotic hymns.


Good post.

T Foster said...

Good post, but sadly you overlook one thing.

The British Evangelical Churches have just came out of (or maybe are still in the middle of) a violent reaction against the 'fire-and-brimstone' Brethren-style theology. [Hopefully] The reaction will flip the other way soon.

I wish it were different, that we could build on what our [better] predecessors have given us, but the modern church doesn't like that. It wants to change, to react, to move away from anything old or 'un-modern' or uninviting or 'un-pc'. I know this is almost the case in my church anyway.

Nick Mackison said...

Thanks Zrim.

David Shedden said...

Bottom line is Nicky you got to Kiss the Son. Pucker up big boy.

Sam said...

"I'm tired of singing homo-erotic hymns"

Ah, yes. The infamous "Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend songs." Doesn't get much worse than that.