Often the Bible says that we are to fear God, but does that mean to cower before him? to be afraid of his punishing ways? or does it mean to stand before him in awe and trembling at his great majesty and glory and yet to know that He loves and forgives us? To me fear and awe are part of a continuum of emotion which are the opposites of each other. One end of the continuum would read “fear” and at the other end “awe. In the middle of the line between the two, there would be neither fear nor awe, a big zero. But as we move down the continuum towards fear, our fears toward God would grow. We would imagine God’s punishing ways more and more. The terror of the image of God in a chariot in the heavens ready to zap us at every sin would grow. And If we moved from zero towards awe, our awe and trembling before God would grow, our awareness of His majesty, His power and His omnipresence would be so enhanced.
The interesting thing to me about fear and awe is that in the Hebrew language there are a number of words that signify both. The most common Hebrew noun in the Old Testament translated fear is yira which means fear, piety, reverence and awe. We find that Hebrew word in Psalm 2:11 It says to “serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.” Its verb form, yare, means to be afraid, be frightened, to revere, respect, to be awesome, be dreadful, be feared. [#3707-3711] Yare is used in Deuteronomy 6:13: “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” In Greek it is the same. In the New Testament, the Greek work, phobos, means fear, terror, respect, reverence and awe. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”[Luke 1:50, #5828-32] There are other Hebrew and Greek words which also carry both meanings. The Greek and Hebrew words quoted and their meanings come from the “Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance” by Edward W. Goodrick & John R. Kohlenberger III; #’s are Strong’s numbers which identify every word used in the Bible.
The question that comes to my mind is this: where do I stand, where do you stand, on the continuum of fear and awe? Am I, are you, closest to fear, imagining God as the punishing parent? Or do we stand in awe before His creation and His mind which could create such wonder and beauty and diversity in an interdependent system? What is the basis for my, for your relationship with God? What attitude does my church, your church teach? Is God to be feared or revered? Is God punitive or awesome?
As I wrote a few weeks back, I grew up in a church where the fear of God was primary, because we could never get over our sinful selves. As a young adult I rejected that teaching, but it took me years before I could stand before God with love and in my heart and not fear. I think the worse thing for me about this early training has been how difficult it has been to actually feel God’s love for me.
It is as if I “know” God is loving, but not for me. I finally went at this problem obliquely, preferring to find out how to love myself, to finally tear down all the walls between me and any love. And so I began with acknowledging all that I am—warts and all, humanness and, potentially, a child of God. If, I could love myself, I reasoned, then many things in me would heal and I would no longer be pushing any love away whether it came from God or other people. To a large extend that process worked. I am accepting God’s love for me today, but I still think that I should feel it in every cell of my body. When that day comes, I will feel truly loved. And that is up to God. I cannot make that happen.
So much of our wounding becomes a projection onto God: if we don’t feel ourselves to be worthy of God, neither will God(we think!). If we think we’re unlovable because of whatever guilt and shame we feel, we’ll project onto God that He can’t love us for the same reasons. If we’re unsuccessful in life, if we don’t feel like we measure up to what an ideal American should be, we’ll project the same onto God’s expectations of us.
Let’s take back the projections right now! Let’s not fall into that cultural trap anymore! Let’s start afresh in our thinking about God and let Him show us what is really true about ourselves in the Bible and in what He tells us and shows us about ourselves! I believe that the truth about all of us is that we are flawed, inconstant human beings who have the potential to really covenant with God in the deepest way possible. That we can, with God’s help, move past the rebellions and pain and suffering and inconstancy that we have endured and become loving servants of God. That we will make fewer and fewer mistakes the longer we journey with God. That we can love ourselves and accept God’s love for us.
For me the two most powerful expressions of God’s love in the Bible are in the Exodus story and in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua God leads the Israelites from slavery through the wilderness in spite of their rebelliousness every step along the way. He does lose the older generation because they never do give up wanting to return to Egypt. He makes sure that they die off before the nation crosses the Jordan. He had taught them and their descendants and gave them purpose and everything else they needed for 40+ years! A few times He complains to Moses about their reactions, but mostly He is there for them all the way. He is a constant source of love, food, guidance, safety and more.
As for the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, if we truly believed this story to be real and true for each of us, we would be transformed into children of God. The lost son stands in for us. See how God is anticipating our coming back to him. He awaits our arrival. He runs out to greet us with love and affection. There are no punishing looks or lists of all the things we have done wrong. He celebrates our arrival with a party, killing the fatted calf. He restores us to our rightful place in His family. It’s an amazing demonstration of the love God has for each of us, even though we have screwed up. But can we believe it? Can we live its truth? Now, can we give up our fear of punishment and judgment and just bask in awe of His love and forgiveness, awesomeness and glory?
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I look at God with fear in my heart or awe? Am I projecting onto God my own poor self-image? So that God becomes the punisher that I think I deserve? How can I move towards the other end of the fear-awe continuum and see God’s glory and love and forgiveness? Can I truly, deep in my soul, accept God’s love for me and live that truth?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who accept His love for us. May we live in that love and pour it back out into a needy world. May we be true to our Lord who love and forgives us.
Link to my website for the full blog for this week and the archives of my blog going back to 2011 at bythewaters.net/blog.html.
Check out my new book, “Exodus: Our Story, Too,” at www.amazon.com under my full name, Patricia Said Adams.
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