(Casting out Fear, part 3)
Paul taught, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, or things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39, italics added, NASB)
The “angry God” image, however, appears to be an accepted “norm” in both spiritual and secular arenas. While some of that perception comes from those who have the Father behaviorally “stuck” in Deuteronomy (as suggested earlier), there are other sources. Do you recognize the name Jonathan Edwards? Even if you don’t, I’ll bet you recognize this bit of enduring prose/theology, written in 1741: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince…you hang by a slender thread, with the flames of Divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it and burn it asunder…”*
Edwards’ description of God’s interactions and intentions towards us do not exactly invite anyone to lean against the Father’s shoulder and spend time…nor to lift your prayers to “Our Father, who is in heaven” and expect a warm reception to the sound of your voice, at the outreach of your hand reaching towards His.
The one Biblical phrase that gains strength through the portraiture of “the angry God” is the phrase, “fear of the Lord.”
Proverbs and Psalms have much to say about this phrase: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”; (Prov. 1:7) “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil”; (Prov. 8:13) “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life”; (Prov. 14:27) “The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied untouched by evil”; (Prov. 19:23) “You who fear the Lord, praise Him”; (Psa. 22:23) “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him”; (Psa. 25:14) “Let all the earth fear the Lord”; (Psa. 33:8) “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him.” (Psa. 33:18)
In Isaiah, part of the prophecies regarding the future Messiah read, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2) Or, “And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear…” (Isaiah 11:3). Isaiah 33:6 states, “And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure.” (All quotes, NASB, italics added)
I discovered some interesting insights about that phrase on the website hebrews4christians.com. “What does it mean to ‘fear’ the Lord? Does it mean that we should be afraid of God’s disapproval of us? Should we live in dread over the prospect of future judgment for our sins? The word translated ‘fear’ in many versions of the Bible come from the Hebrew word yirah, which has a range of meaning in the Scriptures. Sometimes it refers to the fear we feel in anticipation of some danger or pain, but it can also mean ‘awe’ or ‘reverence.’ In this latter sense, yirah includes the idea of wonder, amazement, mystery, astonishment, gratitude, admiration and even worship…the ‘fear of the Lord’ therefore includes an overwhelming sense of the glory, worth, and beauty of the One True God. Some of the sages link the word yirah with the word for seeing. When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all…(Jewish theologian) Abraham Heschel wrote, ‘Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple…he (Heschel) continued by quoting, ‘the awe of God is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psa. 111:10) and noted that such awe is not the goal of wisdom…but rather its means. We start with awe and that leads us to wisdom.'”
After this quote from Heschel, the article continues, “According to Jewish tradition, there are three ‘levels’ or types of yirah. The first level is the fear of unpleasant consequences or punishment (yirat ha’onesh)… …the second type of fear concerns anxiety over breaking God’s law (yirat ha-malkhut….the third (and highest) kind of fear is a profound reverence for life that comes from rightly seeing…sometimes called yirat ha-rommemnut, or the ‘Awe of the Exalted.’ Through it we behold God’s glory and majesty in all things…we are elevated to the level of reverent awareness, holy affection, and genuine communion with God’s Holy Spirit…Should we fear God in the sense of being threatened by Him for our sins and wrongdoing, or are we to regard Him in awe, reverence, and majesty?”*
And that is the question that each one of us should ask ourselves. What does God say of Himself? What do Jesus and His disciples say of God’s character and nature?
We are, I think, very much a people needing to know-in-our-knowers, believe in our hearts and spirits, that we are in, under, filled by, and overflowing with the passion that God poured into “the New Covenant.” We may not realize it…but it is Truth. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us…” (Rom. 8:29-34, NASB)
Think about that phrase for just a moment….”conformed to the image of His Son”…and what image does that description bring to your mind? If our Abba, Father is viewed as angry and punishing….that process of being “conformed to the image” may suggest harsh hammering, pushing and squeezing until we fit that “mold” – notimage – of His Son.
But this is indeed the creation of image….as in, “Let us make man in Our image…” (Gen. 1:26, NASB) Paul states, “…but God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loves us…made us alive together with Christ…” (Eph 2:1, italics added) He further explained, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:17-18, italics added, NASB)
God did the work. God did the reconciling. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son….” (Colossians 1:13)