Monday, June 22, 2015

Love and Fear

    In the church today, a very common miss-conception takes place. And while it's understandable, that doesn't make it any more true. Unfortunately, the problem with this particular lie, like many others, is that it influences our understanding and view of the character of God.

    Generally, there are two sides to this lie. One is the hard side, the legalistic side. In this worldview, to use an analogy of Michael Horton's, an angry God carries a stick, waiting for you step out of line so He can bring down His figurative whack across your shoulder blades. God is the harsh, unforgiving God who demands perfection and moralism, and who condemns you for the slightest fault, waiting with his cannon of hellfire and brimstone for a slip-up.

    In response to this uninviting legalism, many churches have responded with a different lie, that of God as a mushy-gushy bundle of love, like your loveable cuddly grandmother. Wrath couldn't be further from God's new and improved nature! From this new worldview, God is basically a cosmic life-coach there to help you solve life problems in the most convenient, comfortable way possible. And if you choose to be a Buddhist or a Muslim, well, God wouldn't actually send "good" people to hell!

    Both positions can find some Biblical backing. One can hardly deny the presence of the wrath of God in the OT, for example where God condemns the entire earth (with only eight people excepted) to death by drowning for their sin. Equally noticeable is the presence of this Jesus on earth who eats with publicans and sinners, speaks with prostitutes, witnesses to the cultural outcasts, and does the generally unacceptable actions out of pure love, while these people rarely hear a word of anger from Jesus lips.

    But if they're both in Scripture, than what should our response be? And how can God be both worthy of our undying love and adoration, combined with helpless affection like that of a child, yet He also demands respect and even fear?

    I'm going to give an example I hope you can understand. One of my taekwondo coaches is a retired Master Sergeant in the Air Force special forces, after several years in the navy. He's a tough guy. So the first year I began taekwondo, I would see this guy, speak with him sometimes, and I was scared to death of him, as was our entire class. He would yell at us, chew us out, make us do push-ups, and seemed all-around scary to my young eyes.

    Then I began attending his school along with my home school. This made me begin spending a couple hours a week with this guy. Then, this last year, the man has been my coach at a Nationals and a World Championships, and I have spent hours, one on one training with this man. And now, while the rest of the class feels scared when he walks in the room, I'll walk up, clap him on the shoulder, and crack a joke with him.

    What changed? He's the same guy. He's still a get-in-your-face-and-chew-you-out couch. He's still the same sergeant. But now, he's my friend. He's not just a coach. He's someone I've shared time with, and talked to, and suffered with. I've seen him stand up for me at a time I couldn't for myself. He's proven time and time again how much he is willing to sacrifice for me.

    My respect for him hasn't lessened, it has actually increased. He still has the same power to make me do push-ups and so on, but now I know him. And I know that he cares about me. As I've come to know him better, I've learned to couple both respect (deep respect) with care. He can be scary. But he still cares for me, and I know it.

    When we think about how we can love a God that's also fear-inspiring, I think we need to think of an analogy like this. While we should never forget the awesome wrath of God, we don't know God as a fire-spewing sociopath waiting for us to step out of line in order to pour brimstone down on us. We instead know Him as a God who cares and loves us deeply.

    But you know what this new realization with my coach doesn't make me do? When I saw him tonight, I did not walk up to him, clap him on the shoulder and say, "Wassup, dude? How ya doin', man?" I would have spent the rest of the night doing push-ups and burpees. You know why I don't do that?

    Because even though I've come to know this man as a friend, I don't forget 1.) to respect him and 2.) the power and authority this man has. Even as my friend, I show him the respect he deserves, because I know just what he can do.

    Even while we love Christ and recognize His love for us, we make a mistake when we then assume that God accepts whatever scraps we have leftover for Him. He is a majestic Creator, who stoops down to love you and I. And let's not forget that.

    So, we see too seeming opposites walking together, fear and love. We approach God with the love of a child for his father, but with the respect and fear of a creature walking into the presence of King. And even while Christ has made us heirs of His promise, we must not forget the wrath against sin that is a part of God's nature, and the deep power that is God.

    Thus, God is neither an egotistical, fire-breathing dragon nor a cuddly, soft grandmother. He is rather a King, a Creator, who stoops to pick up fallen, depraved man and love him with a love he does not deserve. And we would do well to remember how undeserving of His love we are! And as we come to know God better, we begin to understand and enjoy His love, while respecting His power and might, and fearing His wrath against sin.


  1. Great article! I am going to have to share this one! :D

  2. Excellent article and great reminder!

    When I was younger I used to be confused about why people would pray that they would have the "fear of God" in them, but as I got older I realized it was different than the fear I experience when coming across a snake or something, but rather a holy kind of fear that causes me to fall humbly upon my knees before the throne of grace, realizing just how powerful, perfect, and great he is.

    1. I went through the same feelings. Crazy Love by Francis Chan helped me understand a lot of who I now know better. He spends a good bit of time on the topic in that book.

    2. That book is so good!!! One of my favorite and most life changing books I have read. I don't always take to heart what I read, but that book really was taken to heart. I need to read it again. ;)