Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Should We Fear God?

For many years I was troubled by the pronouncement when the chalice is brought out to offer communion, "With the fear of God draw near."

Why should we fear God? Should we fear Him because He will punish us for our mistakes? But we know He is a loving and forgiving God. How could He punish us whom He created. Maybe we  should fear Him because we are not willing to give up our way of life to become congruent with the Life of His Kingdom.  Maybe we should fear Him when we learn that we are seeking to make His kingdom like we wish it to be and know deep down that this is not the realty we face?

I recently saw a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin says the following, "If Heaven is Good and if I like to be bad, how am I supposed to be happy there?" Calvin like many of us prefers to be "bad".  If that is the case then our choice will be hell. For Calvin, heaven only has meaning if it can be like he wishes it to be, "bad". But this is not the way it is. This is not the reality of our existence. Heaven is God's Kingdom. He calls us to perfection to be joined with Him in His Kingdom forever. His commandments are the only way to enter.

C.S. Lewis also addressed this issue in his book, The Great Divorce. In this book residents of Hell are given the opportunity to visit Heaven. When they arrive, they are met by heaven's Spirit residents  who tell each of them in an individual encounter that they are welcome to stay. All they need to do is to  give up their sins, whether that be a lack of forgiveness, a lust for recognition, or some other self centered activity. But in his story, none are willing to give up why they are living in Hell where the worst tendencies are accentuated. Unwilling to change they choose to stay in Hell. The visitors one by one get on the return bus and willingly to go back to hell.

All of us have our bad habits that we probably know are not acceptable to God. We need to ask ourselves, are we willing to change because of our love for God? Are we willing to give up what we think gives us fleeting pleasures in our life, and instead seek what God intends for us?  Or, do we expect God to adapt to our way of thinking? Do we think in the end it will be OK because I believe in Christ?

My problem was that I did not really believe in any absolutes. I believed that God surely would adapt to my view of what is a good life and way of living, after all I was a respected member of our society. I wanted to change the wording in the proclamation before communion to "awe" instead of "fear". But this misses a most important point I was to later learn.

The day of reckoning will eventually come for all of us. We will either have been trained through a life of repentance to have demonstrated our love for God and our willingness to work toward giving up our ego-directed actions to follow Christ, or, remain stuck in our own personal version of what God will accept. In the end we will be the one who chooses heaven or hell.  Will we be like the visitors to hell in Lewis' story, where when even confronted with what heaven is really like they were unwilling to give up what they believe gives them pleasure? They preferred the place where "bad" was acceptable like Calvin.

Christ told His disciples to "Follow Me." They gave up their livelihood and followed Him. We are not asked necessarily to give up our livelihood as they were. But, if we surrender to Him and cleanse our hearts of the passions, we will be blessed with His grace. It will then be up to us to follow the way He guides us. This is the path to heaven. There is no other.

There comes a time when our appropriate fear of God is transformed into an intense love for God. Our fear becomes transformed into a loving obedience. We will no longer fear His punishment, or that we will have to give up what gives us pleasure, because we have found true pleasure and joy in union with Him. We will be fearful that we could still lose the joy and comfort we gain when we willingly live in His grace.

"With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near."

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