WILDERNESS: The Fear of God vs. Being Afraid of God

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May 11, 2020

Exodus 20:18-21 (NIV)

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

CONSIDER THIS

There is the terror of God and then there is the fear of God. They are not the same thing. The terror of God describes the reaction of persons who come into God’s unmitigated presence who do not know God’s nature. The fear of God describes the posture of persons who know the enormity of God’s holiness and yet trust in the extravagance of God’s goodness. 

Today’s text shows us the Israelites bouncing between these two places. The wilderness can be like this. One day it is cloud by day and fire by night, manna in the morning and quail the evening, and the next it’s thunder, lightning, and something akin to volcanic fire on the mountain. 

They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

I want us to notice something important here. Moses does not want them to be afraid of God yet he wants them to live in the “fear of God.” It’s plain here:

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” 

It feels like a conundrum: Don’t be afraid of God yet live in the fear of God—yet it’s not. It comes back down to these two sides of the same coin—holiness and Love. God is holy love, and in truth it’s not two sides of the same coin as though these two things can be separated. Holy love is one thing. And it is both awe-inspiring and breathtakingly good. He splits the sea, drowns an enemy army of cruel tormentors, and he provides breakfast.

Every encounter with God is a test designed to bring us into the fullness of this kind of experienced understanding. We must all at once depend completely on God’s mercy without presuming on his grace. This is impossible unless we actually know God. Knowing about God is not enough. Relating to God through an intermediary like Moses is not workable. We must know God directly. The goal of this way of life is to live in the fear of God without being afraid of God. 

We live in the fear of God and in the embrace of God at the same time. On the one hand, we approach God humbly and yet this for the purpose of embracing and being embraced by God fully. Are we growing in our awareness of this, the true nature of God, or does our vision of God remain skewed? This is why staying close to the Scriptures is so essential. We can recreate God in our own image about as fast as it takes to say, “golden calf.” 

I was driving down the interstate recently when I spotted a bumper sticker that said, “Sin Now. Pray Later.” This sentiment denies both holiness and love. Let’s close today with the bumper sticker that fellow needed. In fact, we all need it.  

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

THE PRAYER

Father, you are holy and you are love and how perfectly have you revealed yourself to us through your Word and your Spirit. And how beautifully do you show us the fullness of Word and Spirit in your Son, Jesus. The miracle we struggle to believe is as we see your fullness in Jesus Christ, so you would grant that same fullness to us in him. Bring us breakthrough this week, in our understanding of you and of ourselves. We want to live in the fear of God without being afraid of God. In Jesus name, Amen. 

THE QUESTION

Do you tend to struggle to perceive and experientially appreciate God’s holiness, or God’s love? How does seeing these two things as one thing help you? Not the same thing, mind you, and yet the one thing? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

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