But I, through the abundance of your mercy,
will enter into your house.
I will bow down toward your holy sanctuary
out of fear of you. – Psalm 5:8
“Out of fear of you.” I think too many people misunderstand the meaning of ‘fear’ in the Biblical and theological context. It’s not the same as being ‘afraid’ of the dark or ‘afraid’ of heights or of monsters. For one thing, much of that notion of fear is in our own mind; it’s a psychological or emotional response toward things that either should be approached cautiously, for we can’t see very well when it’s dark so walk slowly and cautiously. Or we could fall from a great height and injure ourselves or worse, so again it’s a matter of being cautious, but not necessarily fearful. And, in the case of monsters, those are imaginary and what we can imagine should never make us afraid. It’s not real by definition so why worry about it? Why fear it? So, the common factor in all these types of real ‘fears’ is the reality that we do need to be careful in potentially dangerous situations. We need to proceed slowly and deliberately to ensure our safety or the safety of others.
But fear of the Lord has to do with awe and reverence, mixed with just a bit of actual fear at the limitless power and majesty of our Lord. Not that He will ‘smite’ us if we look at Him the wrong way or fail to bow deeply enough. The typical definition of fear has to do with concern for our safety. We don’t want to be hurt. Fear of God has more to do with our inability to ever fully comprehend what God is. And every step closer that we get to comprehending brings us more deeply into the knowledge that we can never know Him completely. God is so deep, so wide, so high, so bright, so eternal that we will never know Him through and through. As we realize how unending all aspects of God are, that’s when we begin to experience that fear. All powerful, all knowing, all present. How can we ever wrap our minds around those concepts? But that’s what God is. And on top of all that, God is love. OK.
There’s a concept we don’t fully understand. Our culture has so romanticized love that most of us can’t even define it anymore. I am extremely fond of the definition provided by St. Thomas Aquinas. “To love is to will the good of another.” It’s not about how someone makes you happy or how they ‘complete’ you. That’s not any other person’s purpose in life. We must seek happiness and completeness from God alone. When we know and love God (as far as our limited mortal selves are able), we are so much more equipped to love others.
God has shown us how much He loves us in a couple of very impressive, inexplicable ways. First, He created us at all. God doesn’t and has never needed us. God needs for nothing. But He wanted us! That’s a perfect display of love. Then He gave us free will to decide for ourselves if we would love Him back. How we show that is a blog entry for another time. But those are two basic, essential ways that God shows us His love. Another is that God gave us His only Son. He made Him human like us, though still completely divine (also a blog topic for another time), and then that Son willingly died for us. And that was God’s plan. Sacrifice is another name for Love. Do you suppose St. Thomas came up with his definition for love from this perfect example?
I think these three awesome realities explain why we should fear the Lord. First of all, I can do none of the things God did for us. I can’t create something out of absolutely nothing. Anything and I mean anything that people ‘create’ has got to use some element or elements already in existence to even begin. Only God created something out of nothing. I do not give my children, or any other person I am related to or love, free will to love me or obey me or even associate with me or not. Hopefully, we all accept that reality. For that love or cooperation is completely up to them ultimately. I do not bestow that upon anyone because I cannot. I would never be able to sacrifice another person to save the lives let alone the souls of humankind.
When something is so incomprehensible, the inability to grasp all that those things mean should cause some fear. And awe and reverence. The Almighty everlasting God loves you. Loves me. Loved us into being to begin with and abides with us still. That is humbling, to say the least, and so I want to “bow toward (God’s) holy sanctuary.” And through the “abundance of (God’s) mercy” I hope to enter His house in that spirit of humility.
Spend some time today or in the near future contemplating your existence on this earth along with the eternal reality of God’s everlasting life, love, mercy, and goodness. If that doesn’t make you humble and fearful in the ways I’ve described above, I will be praying for you. To live a life without that wonder at the enormity of everything about God seems a very unsatisfying life to me. I would much prefer to love the way God loves us – willing the good of others above all else. Showing mercy to others because of that love. It’s something I pray about often. So I am honored to add you to that prayer! Even as I continue to pray for a deepening of understanding those realities for myself. Lots of work to be done right here. Don’t every think that I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. But God blesses our working it all out; and our desire to be closer to Him and our brothers and sisters is pleasing to Him.