“The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.”
Psalm 19, Thursday Lent One, Evening Prayer, the Daily Office Book, Year One
When I was a child the notion of fearing God was a big deal, that God would make me suffer for my sins. Not only would I be punished in this life but also the next, in my being forever a marshmallow on the devil’s stick to be roasted and consumed, then I’d be reformed as a marshmallow on the stick to be again roasted and consumed over and over... forever. At that age my principle sin was eating too many marshmallows, so it made sense.
As I got older I came to just not think of fearing God. It just didn’t make sense; it didn’t jibe with the idea of a merciful God, which The Bible also professes, as a God of infinite being who is unconditional love. Nor did it make sense that a God would create beings who would act in a way (sin) which was built in by that God only to then punish them eternally for doing so, as though building an excuse to satisfy some cosmic sadistic urge. It made as much cruel and maladjusted sense as someone raising hummingbirds and then punishing them for flying by cutting off their wings. Then with the idea that God was perfect and self-sufficient, it made sense that God could then also not suffer any detraction, injustice, wound or insult; nothing could be taken from a perfect all powerful God. Therefore God couldn’t suffer an injustice which would require justice, retribution or punishment for the people He created. It was all very confusing.
But then I came to believe the Gospel of Jesus, I came to understand things through the Gospel, I came to see The Bible through the lens of the Gospel. I came to view these things of life through the gift of God’s Law of love and compassion, which became known to me in the compassionate love of Jesus. Then I began to understand fearing God. I began to understand that fearing God was to fear love, to fear the vulnerability which is required of the deep love needed for real relationships, a humbling reality. Jesus lived a life of perfect vulnerability, vulnerable to relationships, vulnerable to the “compassion which covers all his works”, from which his teaching came, from which his healing power came, from which he found strength to die on a cross. Rather than abandon his love for us, or the whole of his own humanity in God’s love, Jesus remained confident in his love on a deep level, regardless of how great his fear. He followed through, completely confident of himself in God to remain confident to his human vulnerability.
It’s the vulnerability of love I fear and all the “little” deaths love requires. Even though I know love’s resurrections wait in return, the resurrections of healing, wholeness and life-giving relationships, I still know fear. That’s ok, Jesus did too. In spite of it, he was steadfast in his compassion and conviction, in his experiential knowledge of God’s love in his life, a love so powerful to raise the dead, and a love so powerful given to us to also raise us from our tombs of fear. Being raised from the depths of our fear is food for our compassion and joy. I find joy and gratitude for Christ who has forever changed what love means by revealing it in his life, death and resurrection. Even through the sorrows and fear I know the joy of compassion which always brings me through to the other side. What is it you fear, fear about love, which can be raised up to feed your compassion and joy?