Monday, April 7, 2014

Fear, Forgetfulness, and Getting Our Own Way

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
Proverbs 3:7-8


It is not a topic I want to overlook in any discussion about the active, assertive nature of wisdom.

But it is not a notion we care to discuss in our culture - and perhaps rightly so.  We are recovering from some pretty distorted messages about God, and we have some pretty crazy people claiming to do some pretty crazy things in God's name.  Further, FEAR didn't seem to be a significant theme in Jesus' ministry or his message.

Or was it?

I think we could say that Jesus set out to strike fear in the hearts of the 'religious people' of his day - just a little bit - thrashing the temple, calling them vipers, that sort of thing.  And they were afraid; they were afraid of the wrong thing.  They were afraid of losing their power, of losing control.

They did not fear God.  

And I think that's why Jesus did it. His harsh words and even his violence was an impassioned attempt to inspire in them a reverential fear of God.  It was their only hope of being saved from their own addictions to power and control.

Meanwhile, Jesus didn't need to strike fear into the hearts of the broken and oppressed.  They already seemed to have a sense of awe and respect for authority, for God, and for Christ - probably because they were so aware of their own powerlessness.  It's amazing how a healthy dose of powerlessness (reality) inspires a healthy fear of and respect for God, [his] power, and our need for [him].  No, those who feared God were the ones with whom Christ seemed to perform the most miracles.  Those who feared God seemed to be able to receive Jesus; they seemed to be transformed by his message.

But for those on the sidelines, those who perhaps started out with a healthy reverence for God but who had slipped into doing things in their own power, Jesus gave them a fear-factor-like wake-up call.  He told the rich young ruler to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor.  He told the righteous that lust in the heart/mind is the same as committing adultery and getting angry and calling your brother a fool is the same as committing murder.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly these stories were meant to inspire?  

These were not feel-good messages!  Even the "Sermon on the Mount" was moderately frightening when you consider what it means to be blessed!


Jesus' message was consistent with that of the Old Testament (of course!): Y'all need to have a healthy respect for the holiness of God; it is from this place of reverence that you will begin to receive the true Gospel, the true Messiah, the true freedom.

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.  
Isaiah 33:6

He wasn't encouraging people to treat God as if God were not God.  He wasn't dressing God's love up as a fuzzy blanket we can snuggle into on a cold day and discard when we don't need it.  Frankly, God's love is scary. 

And we should be a little frightened.

I pray we ARE a little frightened!

We are meant to have a healthy understanding of our own limitations and frailty, our need for a savior - a power greater than ourselves - because from that place of powerlessness we understand respect, honor, reverence: the fear of the Lord. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of  wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

I think there is a key reason we don't want to talk about the fear of the Lord and its significance in/as wisdom, repentance, and the Kingdom of God:  Like the religious people of Jesus' time, we Christians fear / revere something other than God. I think of the sex addicts who are desperately afraid of giving up sex, the romance addicts afraid of giving up hope, the pop-culture junkies afraid of giving up media, movies, and video games - even us control freaks afraid to give up our judgment and image-management.  We spurn the fear of God as if it is passe, a sign of ignorance or a reactionary morality.  But we fear being without our little fixes!  We can't go without our favorite programs, our entertainment, our little indulgences, our program for happiness - even when we don't like who we've become or the way our lives have turned out.

We don't want to talk about the fear of the Lord because we don't want to give up our addictions; we don't want to acknowledge our slavery.  So we deny of our pasts, weaknesses, failures, frailty; we deny our need for a power greater than ourselves and we resist anything that will confront us with the truth.

Then something really scary happens: God lets us have our way.

Then they will call tome but I will not answer; 
they will look for me but will not find me,
since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the [death which is the fruit of their own understanding].
Proverbs 1:28-31

Fear that!

We want to forget - forget how scary life is, how messy; forget how broken we are, how powerless; forget how risky faith is and how we cannot seem to control God.  And the fear of God won't let us do that, because it is from this very place of remembering, repenting, and reaching out that we begin to have a new understanding, one that empowers us to shun evil, one that leads us to light and life and salvation.

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