How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Fear God

 In Sermons, Teachings
This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series The Prophets & Poets Mixtape

JR. Forasteros - February 5, 2017

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Fear God

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My grandfather died in the Spring of 2010, of cancer. It was a long, slow, painful death that ended in a hospice bed in his living room. My wife, Amanda, and I had the chance to visit about a week before he died. While we were there, my uncle pulled me aside and said, “You have a lot more sway with the man upstairs than I do. Would you pray that my dad goes quickly? He’s suffered enough.”

My uncle is a fun, funny guy. It’s safe to say he’s never made religion a priority in his life, and it’s safe to say that he’s made a few mistakes (because who hasn’t?). But when push came to shove, when he was confronted with the reality of our mortality, he felt inadequate. He desperately wanted God to act, to move, to intervene, to be present. But he didn’t feel worthy of God’s attention.

This is probably the most painful experience I encounter as a pastor: people who are suffering and who feel ignored or even punished by God. Most people have a default assumption that when bad things are happening it’s because God is punishing them – or at best because God is overlooking them. God simply steps back and lets karma run its course.

Like my uncle, they feel unholy, unimportant, unworthy of God’s attentions or affections.

There’s a phrase we use in the Church that feeds this feeling – we talk about fearing God. No wonder people like my uncle feel God is overlooking them, or even angry. They hear that God is someone to be feared. This is an unfortunate accident of language. The Hebrew and Greek words that get translated “fear” have a much broader semantic range than our English word “fear” does. In English, our word fear just means “be afraid”.

So when we tell people to FEAR GOD, we automatically assume God is someone to be feared.

We picture God like a harsh boss or a demanding parent – never satisfied with less than perfection. We imagine God is perpetually grumpy and judgmental, quick to punish us for the smallest infractions.

This God only concerns himself with the super-spiritual – the rest of us just sort of keep our heads down, mind our own business, and do our best to avoid his wrath.

We’ll see today that in the Scriptures, fear of God has nothing to do with being afraid of punishment, and none of us is overlooked by God. In fact, we’ll see today that God is the God of those who slip through the cracks – that’s part of why we should “fear” God in the first place.

To FEAR God doesn’t mean to be afraid. A better word would be “Awe.”

The sense of the Hebrew word is being overwhelmed by the majesty and greatness of God. It’s that feeling you have if you’ve ever climbed a mountain and looked down at the whole world spread beneath you. Or if you’ve ever stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It’s a sense of smallness you get in the presence of something overwhelmingly beyond you.

(And being afraid can be wrapped up in that – if you’ve ever swum a little too far into the ocean and struggled to get back to shore, you know that sense that this thing that’s bigger than you, with irresistible tides and unfathomable depths can be dangerous!)

But God is not a mountain or a canyon or an ocean. God is the living and active creator of the universe.

I want to talk about what that means for people like my uncle, who feel ignored or overlooked by God.

Join us Sunday as we discover the life that flows from awe of God!

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