Awesome Indeed

What is it in the human heart that attracts many to extreme sports? We all desire an awesome feeling of fear. Inside every single one of us is a desire to feel truly alive.

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest…

21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (Heb 12:18-22)

Over the last few decades we have commercialized this deep desire in us all. Jumping out of airplanes, scuba diving, roller coaster riding, or name any other thrill seeking adventure is a pursuit of this elusive tremedous mystery we call “thrill.”

We seek the excitement of fear. Fear, we hope, will make us feel the risk and joy of feeling truly alive.

Rudolf Otto called it, “Mysterium tremendum et fascinans”  or the fearful and fascinating mystery. The encounter with the beyond that is both terrifyingly awesome yet stunningly fascinating.

A very good way to describe this fascinating mystery is the word numinous. C.S. Lewis described it as a feeling utterly different than fear. Fear he said is the feeling we get when we are told that the adjacent room with the door ajar contains a tiger. Numinous is the feeling we get when we are told that there is ghost or spirit in the room next door.

Let’s recover the wonder of fear as we tremble before the majesty of divinity. It is this quivering that is not fearful, only awesome. True wonder inspired fear will make us feel truly alive. The encounter will be awesome indeed. We need Someone other than ourselves to breathe life into us. That is why Jesus breathed on his disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”(John 20:22)

Sadness of the Heart

Read Nehemiah 2:1-8

Have you ever stood in front of someone who you felt was really important to you? There is nothing more that you would give than to be acknowledged, to be understood. For Nehemiah, being in the presence of Artaxerxes was an honour. Few managed to be in the respected position of cupbearer or in the inner circle of advisers to the king of Persia.

What Artaxerxes thought about him was vitally important Nehemiah.  Vitally would be an understatement, what an Ancient Near Easter king thought of you was a matter of life and death. We would not be remiss to point out that the King’s favor promoted or demoted you. It granted you standing or left you with no place to stand.

Nehemiah 2:2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.

Modern psychologist would call this codependency or an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a relationship. The king needed to be needed; the servant needed his master’s approval.

The Bible clearly defines this unhealthy attitude in Nehemiah as “the fear of man.” A simple comment such as, “I see you are sad” triggers in Nehemiah such a visceral reaction that he describes himself as “very much afraid.” This approval seeking on Nehemiah had a debilitating effect on him.

Dealing with Fear and Codependency

The only solution to his paralyzing fear of man was a change of perspective. Nehemiah began to realise that the most important thing in his life was not what Artaxerxes thought of him. Neither was it the great exploits of rebuilding Jerusalem–which at this point he may or not do. Both of these options still placed either another person’s approval or his own approval at the centre of his universe.

He needed a paradigm shift. He needed something greater than himself. A powerful leader would not suffice; a noble and greater cause than himself simply would not do. The shift in perspective that Nehemiah has needed was the only subject worthy of reverence and fearful delight, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name.” (Neh 1:11).

Human affirmation will no longer receive the place of honour and worship that God alone deserves. Placing what God the Father thought of him above anything was simultaneously freeing and strengthening. He could now have the resolve to accomplish his task. “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”(v8)

There is another Hero who resolutely fixed his face to the task at hand. Jesus did not consider what others thought of Him as shameful, as long as His Father was pleased. “Therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:7; cf. Luke 9:53). This Hero would not just risk the disapproval of the king. He would suffer the very shame that we deserved that we would only experience grace.

The Cockroach in the Room

Psalm 112

1 Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments!

7 He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.

A Fearing Man

Often we hear the words “fear of God” and “fear of man” and our minds are triggered as though by some pavlovian response to indulge in religious jargon and lose the very nature of the “fear of God.”(v.1) Have you ever been afraid of insects, or known someone who is afraid of insects. I remember walking into a room with someone who was afraid of cockroaches. As we turned the light on, their only and chief concern in the room was the cockroach. My friend could not fuction, think or do anything else than think about the cockroach. This is a much more helpful illustration with regards to the fear of God than any religious jargon or vocabulary can offer.

Such is the story of this “Blessed Man” who fears the Lord.

 A Fearless Man

The Psalm goes on to enumerate all the other things that may be in the “room” of his life, but do not fill his attention span. We see family (v.2), wealth, success and money (v.3), personal morality and business ethics (v.5), or piety (v.9). Most of the furniture in this “Blessed Man’s” room is good. We should think focusing on this would not be a bad thing. Surely a little bit of fear with regards to how one’s family runs, how successful one is, or how one conducts business and life in an all-around moral way is not a bad focus fear.

What is it that makes this “Blessed Man” afraid of God but not afraid of failure or bad news?

The fearless man fears God. In other words he worships God, not success. He worships God, not family. He worships God, not success. The Psalmist tells us that this blessed person is utterly fearless with regard to bad news, because he does not worship success.

So what is the source of his fearlessness?

A Feared God

God is the only object of worship who when you fail him he will forgive you. All other objects of worship can become hard task masters. The reason why the Psalmist is fearless is that he knows his great debt has been paid. You can almost hear this Psalm echoing these words “with you there is forgiveness [therefore] you are feared.”(Psalm 130:4) V8.

God is feared, not because of his power, but because of his mercy. That is the awe inspiring truth. Jesus had no reason to go to Golgotha and suffers the scars of the scourge, except to bring about our forgiveness. Once the Psalmist experiences forgiveness, his only response is awe.