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Monday, August 11, 2014

An Unlikely match: Fearing & Loving God at the same time (PART 2)

Welcome to Part 2 (Part 1 here). To summarize Part 1: (a) Most Christians tend toward either fearing or loving God, but certainly not both at the same time (b) Fear, by nature, is consuming - specifically feasting on your thoughts so it can get fatter and take up more space first in your mind, then trickle into your values & priorities (your heart) & then outward from your will (your actions); (c) The Fear of God is different, it is equally thought-consuming but, unlike other fears, it is life-giving. So you can fear and love God at the same time. Having looked at the apostle Paul's conception of the terrible mercy and merciful terror of God in Romans 8, let's turn back the Bible clock and look at Psalm 130...

Psalm 130. This is perhaps my favorite Psalm (though Psalms 27, 77, and 139 are strong candidates). If you read this post and are somewhat inspired to begin simultaneously fearing and loving God, memorizing Psalm 130:3-4 would be a great place to start:
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities (ie. sin), O Lord, who could stand?                    But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 
Here we have described in two verses what Paul was describing with a lot more ink & parchment. The psalmist, who has no doubt fretted and feared just as he has endured real and potential harm in his life, now awaits a solution to His biggest problem. God marks sin in His holy ledger and none can stand without a solution. All will fall. But the psalmist anticipates a future solution:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits; and in his word I put my hope;                                My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning (Psalm 130:5-6)
Watchmen on the wall knew their shift was over and the danger of invasion had passed when the morning came. Morning always came - but, without timepieces, they just didn't know when that first sign of dawn would lighten the sky. Similarly, the psalmist is confident a solution will come...he just doesn't know when. That solution to falling, justly, into the abyss of God's eternal judgment will be complete and total.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD. For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him there is full redemption.                                                                            He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8)
As with Paul, the psalmist is in touch with his greatest potential harm - full, awful, wrath-filled, just condemnation for a heart and life that daily rebels against its Creator. His default posture when considering how he will one day answer to God: Can't even stand! Full redemption and forgiveness come through Christ..."that you may be feared" (v.3). He wants to consume our thoughts with this wonderful deliverance. The fear of God is the only fear that doesn't lead to all its negative implications (worry, self-protection, insulation, flight) though the God is the greatest potential threat & destructive force we will ever encounter. We currently know and relate to the same God from whom we deserve the fulfillment of eternity's worst fear, a real fulfillment that we still be executed for some (ie. the same God who is no less wrath-potent & will execute the fullness of his just wrath once more), yet not for us who trust Christ because He consumed it on our behalf. This is the terrible mercy/merciful terror designed to grow larger as it consume all thoughts - thus crowding out all smaller and earthly fears. Unlike the others which robs your time, shrinks your trust toward others, and spends time (unlike every other fear) life-giving. 

So in summary: The Fear of God is all-consuming, ever-growing thinking whose central refrain is: "I relate, respond to, worship a God who is terror-potent with a wrath-promise...just not toward me because Jesus mercifully absorbed the wrath I deserved" and with the result that every other earthly fear must shrink in comparison to the growing Fear, such that earthly fear will cease limiting bold acts of faith done out on the ledge of life.

A Way to Enter into simultaneous fear & love: Sometimes we have to enter into something new by way of what's familiar - via an illustration or a word-picture that relates more concretely to our lives. Jesus did this all the time when he related truth through parables. His listeners could thereby enter into His truth by the familiar ways of the agricultural, familial, or economic venues which daily inhabited.

If you would then, take a moment to approach your largest fear which contains potential harm. And what if I could guarantee for you, that thing you fear will cause others harm in the future. Yet as you approach it, without losing it's potential for harm, it just keeps on not harming you. Could you stand to remain near it? Would you not be compelled and drawn, yet wide-eyed and perspiring all the while?  I mentioned some possible examples in my first post:

A tarantula that sits on your knee but never does bite you.
A viper that has slithered up your shirt sleeve but never strikes.
Saying something conspicuously embarrassing in front of group of people but they never turn to gawk nor give the slightest laugh at your expense. 
$1 in your savings account but despite your spending, that dollar never runs out. 
Standing on the edge of a cliff, now walking, now dancing, but never teetering nor toppling over the edge.

I trusted my life to Christ and later worked at a International Christian sports camp in the
Pilot Mountain: God hath redeemed the thought of you.
foothills of North Carolina. I met lifelong friends there including Katie, my wife. We would occasionally get to spend time 'off-campus' - usually during a day off or with a smaller group of remaining campers from the previous week's session. One off-campus place to which my friends and I would often go is nearby Pilot Mountain. We'd take food out there, go hiking, and tool around for a while. Most of my friends especially enjoyed hanging their feet over the edge of the precipitous fall. The only way I could get near the edge is by way of "army crawl," which if you are not familiar: Front of the entire body making contact with the ground while inching forward using only your forearms (thus minimizing risk of the accidental "trip," "stumble" or "slip"). Hearty laughter often abounded as I slowly crawled my way into a conversation. 

I must say it was a spiritual if not darn near "mystical" experience that led to the writing of these two posts (but I think this subjective experience lines up with the objective, biblical concept of the simultaneous fear and love of God). In prayer one day, I sensed the Holy Spirit beckon me to the ledge of that same cliff to which I used to crawl - along with the invitation: "Come learn what it means to fear me." After approaching the edge of the cliff on my feet: "If you trust me to keep you from falling, walk along it" and, then, "Run!" All of this played out in my mind's eye. Even though I was safely in my backyard with two feet on the ground, I was sweating through my shirt at 7 am. I think God put me through this spiritual exercise to help me appreciate truly approaching and relating to Him. If I call Him Savior, make no mistake He is saving me from something real and terrible. If I can expect a warm and Fatherly embrace, I must walk to the edge of the abyss to get it.

As I was working on this posts, I did have a couple days where I thought I might be a little 'out there' with my understanding of the fear of God. So I was exceptionally grateful at that point to hear the idea of such an edgy approach to God so similarly advocated by an older and wiser pastor whom I esteem so highly (note especially: Grand Canyon):
Fear and trembling are not because God is our enemy but because He saved us from His wrath through Christ, and now we stand on the brink of the Grand Canyon of His holiness and justice and grace and wrath with unspeakable wonder, knees wobbling and hands trembling, but overcome with worship at the depth of his majesty, not with worry that we might fall in  (John Piper, "The Present Effects of Trembling at the Wrath of God," March 6, 2005). 
What does a simultaneous fear & love of God do? 1. Solves the problem of trying to 'get' ourselves to fear God. It's not something you start doing, it's something you start thinking. You don't get rid of fear - you replace it. So utilize the one life-giving fear available to you.  2. Helps us better discern our design. You can start to tell we were designed for fear. We are made to be filled full with fear (Ps. 139:14). As a good friend pointed out to me over lunch this week: There are activities in this world which we both love and fear and so "hint" at our design.  Sky-diving (death), gambling (loss of money), a suspense murder mystery (heart attack?), game hunts/safaris (loss of limb or worse), roller-coasters (loss of lunch). All involve real and potential harm...and toward us. But what a rush! We are designed to live out on the edge. That begins with our relationship with God, who is full of potential and again-to-be-deployed wrath...just not toward us who trust Christ. 3. Fear & Love are wed. All those verses about trembling with joy and delighting in fear (see Psalm 2:11; Isaiah 11:3; Nehemiah 1:11). The only way to access this is through fearing the God of the gospel. That we are teetering toward the abyss of eternal torment and only the merciful hand of God keeps us out. "Thank you and wow!" Might such be our forever response. "Thank you and wow!" Awestruck & Lovestumped.   4. Empowers you for more and bolder faith-risks. The more we meditate on this unseen reality, the more we are emboldened for faith-risks on the edge of life because thoughts of their potential harms shrink as the fear of God grows larger. This doesn't happen overnight and I'm not sure you wake up one day and everything else is just "whatever bad happens, no biggie" (I'm not sure because this journey of fearing God is something to which, in some ways, I'm still pretty new).

This edgy, terrible mercy/merciful terror nature of God is something we must neither simply give mental assent nor be satisfied to experience only on special occasions, but daily meditate upon, soak in, and keep before us if we are ever to fear and love God at the same time. 

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