Wonder: Fear of God The Rev. Megan Collins December 18, 2022
I grew up in a very cautious home, with lots of rules and boundaries in place to keep us extra safe. But somehow now I have raised two boys who are junkies for adrenaline and fear. I think they get it from Dave. When they were babies Dave would balance them, standing up on his hands, and they would giggle as he swooped them down into his arms. They got older and they would hide in dark hallways in our house and jump out at each other, screaming and cracking up all at the same time. They waited in extra long lines to get in the very first row of huge roller coasters. They went skiing and chose to go down the tallest slopes. The moment our older one turned 18, he thanked me for keeping him alive to adulthood by skydiving out of a plane from 18,000 feet up in the air.
My kids love this kind of fear. Maybe you haven’t jumped out of any planes (I definitely have not) but you have still experienced this kind of fear. You feel afraid but it also draws you in. As kids, it was the thrill of hide and seek in the dark, or that moment on the swing set when it felt like you were so high up in the sky the swing might break, or watching a scary movie for the first time. Your heart pounds and your palms sweat and you are terrified but somehow when it’s over you want to do it all over again.
We’ve been talking the past few weeks about what it means to have faith like a child, and how that kind of faith reignites our sense of wonder and of being alive. Today I’d like us to talk about fear. I’m willing to bet that when you come into church, most of us don’t get that heart pounding, tingling up your spine-feeling that you had on a roller coaster as a kid. You probably don’t feel a rush of fear when you pray or read your Bible. When your kids head off to Sunday School or youth group, you don’t put them in a helmet and hug them tight, whispering in their ear to be careful.
But maybe you should.
Because somewhere along the way we believed the scriptures that tells us to not be afraid and we forgot the ones like these:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;” (Proverbs 1:7)
“Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him” (Psalm 25:14)
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) We don’t talk about the fear of God a lot. In fact many of us have lost our fear of God all together. Maybe it’s because we put God in a box. As we grow up, we tend to like things to be controllable and predictable and safe. So we take God and we make God fit into those categories. We make God smaller. We limit what God can be involved in our lives. We put caveats in our prayers. We turn the living God into a set of belief statements. Then something difficult comes along. The world has really big problems, or you have a really big issue come up in your life. But if you have this small, tamed, shadow version of God that you have created because it feels safe, then how can you trust that God is big enough to take on the brokenness in the world?
In the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis there is a conversation happening between a mythical creature and a young girl named Lucy. They are talking about Aslan, who is the king of the land of Narnia where the story is set. He writes:
“Is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”" When we grow up, we lose our childlike fear of things like the dark, or the monster under the bed. But we also leave behind with it the good kind of fear, the kind that makes our heart beat faster and our knees knock because we are in the presence of something great, the kind of fear that draws us in instead of pushing us away. It’s this kind of fear we should feel when we come into God’s presence. God is so much bigger than us. When we fear the Lord, God becomes Aslan in narnia. “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king.” All at once it makes us feel afraid but also makes us want to draw in closer.
The people in the Christmas story knew this God well. Zechariah and Elizabeth would become the parents of John the Baptist, who would talk about who Jesus was before he was even born. They were a righteous couple, and were both very dedicated to their faith in God. They were both quite old and had not had children. Then one day Zechariah is going about his priestly work and it says: Luke 1:11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. The message that they would have a child at this point in their lives may have been as terrifying as the angel. Then later we meet Mary, who will become the mother of Jesus:
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Mary may not have been terrified, but she was definitely perplexed and must have shown some fear because the angel says next:
30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Then God shows up again, this time with the shepherds. This would have been the last group who would have expected a visit from an angel. They were outcasts because of the kind of work they did. But it says:
Luke 2:8 Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Again, messengers from God show up and the immediate reaction is fear. The shepherds are terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[b] the Lord.
Over and over again in the Christmas story, we see a pattern. God appears, and the people are afraid, or at least perplexed
But why were they afraid?
Partly because it’s an angel that showed up out of nowhere. But at a bigger level, they had fear because their God was not small. The more they knew about God, the more their knees would get weak at the thought of him. They weren’t afraid because God was mean or vindictive or couldn't be trusted. They were afraid because God was . . .God. Not a religion. Not a belief system. Not one option of what to do on Sunday morning. God was God, the God of the whole universe. The God who had done remarkable things. They knew when that God came around that big things were about to happen. They knew for sure that their lives would be turned upside down. (They were right). So they were afraid, but they don’t run away. The story doesn’t end with the shepherds hiding under some sheep or Mary running off into the woods. They are afraid, but their fear is in the right place, in the one who draws them close. Having faith like Mary and Zechariah and the shepherds doesn’t mean we don’t fear. It means we don’t fear the wrong things.
Oswald Chambers writes “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”
There are plenty of things you can be afraid of. You may be afraid of what will happen in the future. You might be afraid of what people think of you. You could be afraid of losing your security or your money or your health or your friends Maybe you are just afraid of the unknown. But the one thing worthy of your fear and your awe, is God. Here’s the best part.
When you fear God, you don’t need to fear anything else.
When you have a healthy fear of God, it doesn’t mean you want to run away from God. It means you see God for who God really is. You let God out of the box. God is powerful. God knows everything about us and about the world. God is huge and beyond the limits of time. God has been here from the beginning and will be there in the end. God could stop the world from spinning today if that’s what God wanted to do. God can turn your life upside down in one breath. That same God is drawing close to you, coming up alongside of you.That should make your heart beat a little faster.
William Eisdenhower wrote this about the fear of God:
“The Bible reports that confronting God is a dreadful experience. Yet fear does not have the last word. Those who are shaken to the core are told, “Fear not.” We have to conclude that while an unfiltered experience is terrifying, it also brings an unshakable reassurance. We are unsettled from our false securities, but then resettled in the true security of God’s love . . .Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is scarier than the world by far. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal. Yet if wisdom starts with fear, it does not end there. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me; that he stands over against my delusions, but not against the truth that sets me free; that he casts me down, but only to lift me up; that he sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love is its completion.”
Childlike faith doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear. It means you put your fear in the right place, a fear of the Lord. When you do, you don’t have to fear the world anymore, because standing right beside you is the King, strong and powerful like a lion. Even though we have a healthy fear of the lion, we know He is good. As our hands shake and our heart pounds, we still run right to him.