“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools* despise wisdom and discipline.” [Proverbs 1:7]
*The Hebrew words rendered ‘fool’ in Proverbs denote one who is morally deficient.
“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” [1 Corinthians 11:27-32]
I am thinking about what it means to fear God.
It is not the fear that comes from not knowing how someone is going to react, from not knowing whether someone is going to turn, from being friendly one moment to violent out-of-the-blue the next. God is not a manipulative partner.
It is the fear that comes from knowing exactly who God is, that he is constant and reliable, and wholly other than us in our inconsistency and unreliability.
The fear of the Lord is our recognition, as people who are sinful, that God is holy. That he cannot look on sin, and ignore it. That we cannot see God and live.
And yet God calls us to come into his presence. And die.
That everything that is not of God – that everything that denies who God is, what God is like, what God has done for us, and who we are as new creations in him – perishes in his presence. Because we cannot experience resurrection unless we first experience death. Not just the resurrection we will experience one day in the future, but the here-and-now taking up our cross and being put to death and rising to new life, as we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.
I am thinking about what it means to fear God. And I am thinking that, in emphasising ‘God with us’ we have lost sight of his holiness. That we do not fear God – and, therefore, that we lack moral wisdom.
I am thinking that, in emphasising God’s invitation to us as sinners – as people who are broken, by our own sin and by the sins of those who sin against us – we have lost sight of God’s challenge in regard to our sinfulness – as individuals and as a society. God is loving, but, precisely because he is loving, he is not tolerant of our choosing not to love our neighbour as ourselves. We cannot do whatever the hell we like, and ask God to bless it. (That’s why, for example, I am opposed to going to war in God’s name.)
I am concerned that we come into God’s presence too lightly, and – like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), and others in the early church (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32) – bring judgement on ourselves as a result.
And I love that we can proclaim God’s closeness, and an intimacy that we can experience with God as our heavenly Father, and Jesus as our bridegroom, and the Holy Spirit as one closer than our next breath. I love that we can proclaim that God who is community from eternity to eternity has drawn us into that very community. But that is not a gift to be taken lightly.
The Father is looking for children of light, not darkness. The Son is looking for a spotless bride, without blemish. The Spirit is looking for those who are in the world, but not of it. And all of creation is groaning, waiting in hope for such a community to be revealed.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy.