Terror, Fear, and Dread
A Love Revolution: Over the past 25 years there has been an incredible awakening to the Love of God in the church. This has been a work of the Spirit that has cut across streams and that has led many of us out of legalism and religious performance into a new experience of God’s grace and love for us. Think of all the songs we sing that celebrate this incredible revelation: “Good Good Father”, “How He Loves us”, “No Longer Slaves” to name just a few. I am an enthusiastic recipient of the love of God, and my greatest joy is seeing others grow in revelation of that love.
Terrified by Jesus: Scripture tells us God’s wisdom is “manifold” or “multi-faceted”. John the beloved, the disciple who emphasizes love more than any other, who leaned on Jesus’ chest, is also the man who “fell at His [Jesus’] feet as though dead” when Jesus appeared to him in Revelation 1. The glorified Jesus had to say to him “do not be afraid” for John to be able to have life and some semblance of normal function return to his body.
Think about that: John the beloved had more revelation of God’s love than you or I have or probably will ever have. He wrote "perfect love casts out fear." And yet Jesus appeared to him in a way that filled John, “the disciple who Jesus loved” with terror, dread, and fear and made him fall on the ground “as though dead”. It’s a mistake for us to see fear and love as opposites in our relationship with God—in fact, they can be closely co-mingled or manifest at different times depending on how God presents Himself to us.
Love at a Distance, Fear Up Close: When my son Gabriel was very young, he loved trains. My wife, Cassi, would take him into our small New England town that had the commuter rail station to “watch the trains and drink beer” (it was root-beer, but that’s how he adorably described it). The kid was train obsessed; they’d plan a walk into town around the train schedule so they could see as many as possible.
At the station, the trains came right up to the edge of the concrete platform. You could reach out and touch them if you wanted as they came in. They were massive with loud, diesel engines that shook ground. I remember one particular instance where Gabe saw the train coming at a distance and was so excited. As the train drew near it was so immense, loud, and close and he was so small by comparison that his little body was trembling with sheer terror. He loved that train so much, but when it came close he was so terrified that he was shaking so severely I was afraid he would fall down.
Love and fear were totally co-mingled in that moment. I was worried He would be consumed.
I like the Sun. It’s a good, medium sized star. I could use less of it in the summer and more in the winter. My casual appreciation is made possible by its distance. If I were to approach the sun, I would be properly terrified. If I came too close, I’d be dead.
The Biblical record is clear that when people come face to face with God, it’s a terrifying experience. When God is at a distance, it’s easy to enjoy his benefits with a sense of casual appreciation. But once we start to get close to the power that created all things, to the all-seeing judge, to the refiner’s fire, we are filled with terror, fear, and dread. It’s only his word: “Don’t be afraid” that would enable us to endure that type of proximity to God.
Fear, Terror, Dread
“Fear” in the Bible is often translated as “awe” or “reverence”. I understand that, but I also see this translation as a possible reaction against the distorted “angry father” image of God.
So, now we know better (and we should be grateful!). God is not an angry father. He’s in a good mood. We know that He loves us and His love is totally compelling and overwhelming.
However, the danger for all of us is that we veer so far away from the “angry Father” perspective that we embraced another distortion of the truth: becoming “familiar” with God.
God is not laid back about sin, yours, mine, or the world’s. He’s slow to anger…but he’s righteous, decisive, and devastating when he is angry. Hell is still God’s plan for the devil and his angels and those who align their lives with evil…and that includes all of us unless we repent of our unrighteous deeds and put our faith in Jesus Christ.
Not Only Righteous, but Immense and Mighty
Setting aside the moral dimension of fear, that God will judge our deeds, for a moment. If we are afraid of a train or the sun up close, things created by men and God, how much more would we fear the creator of the sun up close? The only way we could avoid being consumed in His presence up close would be if He held back, refused to fully reveal Himself to us, covered us with His hand in the cleft of the rock as His glory passed over us.
I love God, and I know that God loves me. I know that I'm adopted as a son--that I'm no longer a slave to fear.
But I’m also afraid of Him because He is terrifyingly other than I am. The fact that I’m able to write these words right now is testament to the fact that I’m not seeing Him as He truly is, beholding His glory. I’m observing Him at a safe distance…we are not face-to-face. And yet, I long to be face-to-face more than anything else. Even though it’s terrifying. Because He’s terrifying. I want to become the kind of being that can live face-to-face with God for all eternity.
The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. We need to see Him up close. We need to encounter His love for us, but we also need to encounter His glory, His sheer size and power, His hatred of sin and love of righteousness.
10 Days is about removing the barriers we put up between us and God by setting apart 10 entire days to be available to Him.
It’s about positioning ourselves to encounter the God who is love, and the God who is also a consuming fire all at once and at the same time. 10 Days is about opening up your life to the possibility of an Isaiah 6 moment, where you behold His glory and declare “woe is me, for I am undone…for my eyes have seen the LORD…”
God, we have heard about you by the hearing of the ear. Now let our eyes see you. Perfect us in Love and the Fear of the LORD. -Jonathan Friz
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