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We are to fear and love God. . .


Sometimes I wonder if in the world and even in the church we have lost a healthy fear of God.  Have we lost respect for God?  Do we liken the Creator of the universe to a big, cuddly teddy bear, wise old Grandpa kinda fellow?  We have certainly dismissed any notion, it seems, that God can still be wrathful in favor of a loving God who sits us on his knee and rocks us to sleep at night.  (I love that image by the way so I’m not advocating that we lose it, just to be clear.)  We don’t seem to know what to do with the notion that God could potentially be one who invokes his wrath upon humanity.  (That is so passé!) But, doesn’t God have a whole range of emotions just like the human beings that were created imago Dei?  Isn’t that what the incarnation of Christ reveals to us, that Jesus the divine logos was fully divine and fully human with human emotions just like us?  Those emotions would include love, joy, happiness, disgust, disappointment and yes, anger.  So before you tell me that I seriously lack grace and am stuck on the law, think about the Small Catechism. . .

All you catechists out there. . . remember Luther’s explanation to the Ten Commandments, “We are to fear and love God so that. . . ”  Was Luther kidding about the “fear” part?  Did he mean simply to be in awe and wonder of the One who spoke the world into existence?  Or did he really mean “fear” as in trembling, scared to death, shaking in our boots in the presence of sort of fear?  Timothy Wengert suggest that it is a movement from Law to Gospel that Luther wants believers to hear, experience and believe. (“Fear and Love” in the Ten Commandments, Concordia Journal, January 1995)  Fear is about the death of the “old self” raised to new life in Jesus Christ through the waters of baptism and the cross of Calvary.  We are to fear God’s wrath, not dismiss it.  When we create idols for ourselves we are neglecting the first commandment, neglecting to trust the God who made us and loves us, the God who is good and desires to give us all that is good. But be sure there is both threat and promise attached according to Luther. (LC, Kolb/Wengert 390)

“Even now there are proud, powerful, and rich potbellies who, not caring whether God frowns or smiles, boast defiantly of their mammon and believe that they can withstand his wrath.  But they will not succeed.  Before they know it they will be ruined, along with all they have trust in, just as all others have perished who doubtless thought themselves so secure and mighty. . . but as terrible as these threats are, much more powerful is the comfort in the promise that assures all those clinging to God alone of his mercy, that is his sheer goodness and blessing, not only for themselves but also for their children to a thousand and even many thousands of generations.” (LC, 391)

God will not put up with our idolatry, on this Luther is very clear.  When we are putting our trust and hope in anything other than God we are creating idols and failing to properly fear and love God.  This applies to idols that may not seem like idols at all- the church, the institution, the furniture in the sanctuary, or anything else that detracts from our trust in God alone.  True love for God begins with a healthy respect for him.  We cannot lose the “law” side of this relationship in favor of the “gospel,” it is a both/and kind of deal.

I think that we shouldn’t be afraid to “fear” God.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. PTC permalink
    27September2011 08:34

    I think of Babe, the family dog, who is a chihuahua. When she hears somebody say something in a firm voice her ears go down, her eyes grow wide, she shivers (have you EVER seen a chihuahua shiver? amazing….) and then she comes forward with her head as close to the floor as it can get. The final act is of total submission (rolling on her back with her underbelly exposed).

    The minute she hears a voice of kindness or receives a pat of affirmation, she is “up and attem”, eager in what I would like to see as a total joy for the return of a “right” relationship with her “master.” She begins to look around for what she can bring (usually some precious toy) as an offering and an invitation for me to engage in the next activity with her.

    I don’t think Babe is necessarily terrified of me. I hope she knows that I would never do anything to hurt her…but she seems to know that my size and force could do just that. She fears my potential and trusts that I will never exert it upon her. She is constantly looking to me for “what will happen next” and responds eagerly when she hears me say “You get to go! (with me).

    I think of Babe when I try to describe the way we can both fear and trust our loving Lord.

  2. 27September2011 11:56

    Francis Chan’s video, Fear God, is actually very good. You can find it on with the BASIC series.

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