Encountering God: Face-to-Face With Fear
Sep 22, 2008 by Nancy Buschart | 0 Comments
In my life, I have known a few mean people. People who were angry and wounded and who wounded others. My natural reaction-stay clear, avoid contact, keep a safe distance. I want as little encounter with these people as is possible. I'm afraid of what they might do to me.
There it is again: fear.
What would it mean to my life as a Christ-follower if I project upon God my experience of these wounded and wounding people? Among other ramifications, this projection would make unlikely my willingness to encounter God.
A little word study is essential. Webster assigns two definitions to fear. "An unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger." Synonyms for this definition of fear include terror, dread, horror, trepidation, apprehension. This fear can be either friend or foe because it can both lead you to the Savior and it can paralyze and isolate you.
Webster's second definition of fear is "profound reverence and awe." Synonyms for this fear include respect, worship, admire/admiration, to hold in highest regard.
Fear God? Is that a good thing?
Yes. And, Yes! These two definitions - awareness or anticipation of danger and profound reverence and awe - both apply to God.
Remember Lucy and Mrs. Beaver's encounter of Narnia fame? In hearing about Aslan, Lucy, shaking a little in her boots, asks, "Is he safe?" Mrs. Beaver replies, "Goodness no. He's not safe. But he's good." Lucy rightly assessed that to come face-to-face with Aslan was to encounter Danger. Mrs. Beaver, on the other hand, knows that encountering Aslan is to come face-to-face with Goodness and Love.
Consider another encounter:
You enter a familiar room where a kindly grandfather is seated in an old and overstuffed chair. The room is lit by the soft warmth of a low burning fire and bears an aroma of peace and safety. He welcomes you and smiles benevolently upon his daughter's daughter, his son's son. You approach, settle yourself at his knee. His giant and strong hand enfolds yours while you rest your head and surrender your heart into his embrace.
This is not a bad image of God; but it is an inadequate one. Fearing God, as in anticipating danger, is wise. He is The Holy Wild, the transcendent Creator of the universe who stretches out his mighty arm to bring justice and righteousness to the earth. The second definition - profound reverence and awe - must go hand-in-hand with the first. "The fear of the Lord (profound reverence and awe) is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" [Proverbs 9:10].
Consider yet another encounter:
Poor Isaiah, in the midst of a perfectly fine repose, writes of a sudden awakening.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."
Isaiah knew that he was in trouble. Because of his sin, Isaiah was in grave danger in the presence of the Holy.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
I need that!
Encountering the Living God should make us afraid! God is holy and righteous and just and I know myself to be a sinner in need of mercy. So, how can I be certain that my sin, which is desperately grave, can be erased by God's forgiveness and the consequence I deserve can be replaced by the grace I do not deserve? The answer: Jesus! In him, because of him, through his work of salvation on the cross, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is for us what Isaiah's burning coal was for him, and more. In Jesus, salvation history has its fulfillment; those who receive Jesus Christ experience the same grace that Isaiah received - guilt is removed, sin atoned for and intimate fellowship with God is available.
The writer to the Hebrews suggests yet another encounter-
"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). Enter the throne room, and approach the One seated on the throne whose "train fills the temple"? Yes. Approach with confidence, not with fear, because Christ Jesus, our great high priest, has ascended to the Father's right hand saying "she's one of mine," and "he bears my name" while his Spirit intercedes for us before God. And all of this was accomplished because God loves us.
Fear and Love
This gift from God, this mercy that does not give me what I deserve but that embraces me and welcomes me - a beloved daughter - is one side of a coin. The two sides: the love of God and the fear of God. "The Christian is constantly confronted by the task of overcoming the motive of fear by that of love. Over and above the motive of fear, faith which is active in love, appears at the nerve-centre of Christian conduct in the NT (Gal. 5:6). The NT presents a tension between fear and love. In a paradoxical way they exist together."
Encountering God is dangerous. It's dangerous because He wants to love you. He wants to give you what you need to become the woman or man that He created you to be. He wants to strip away the false and write Truth on your heart. He wants you to know Him as He is-holy and enthroned as well as present to you as Comforter and Lover of your soul.
Encountering God is very scary and very sweet. It is the only path to life in abundance.
Asking The Three Questions
Who is God?
- Is your awareness of God as "not safe" balanced by your experience of God's love, mercy, and grace?
- Have you projected upon God attributes that come from others?
Who am I?
- Do you know yourself to be loved by God?
- Are you still believing yourself to be condemned, "ruined" like Isaiah because of unclean lips, unholy practices; refusing to receive God's gift of atonement?
- Do you know yourself to be forgiven, rescued, restored, redeemed?
How am I living?
- How is your prayer life?
- Do you approach the throne with confidence?
- Do you rarely pray? Or, when you do pray, do you keep a safe distance?
- How much do you need God? Increased need means increased courage to forsake other gods and approach the Living One.
- Who's in control?
- Are you willing (or afraid) to give God the driver's seat? Is your life more under your control or under the control of God?
- Can you pray like Jesus, "Your will, not mine, be done"?
- Do you trust Him?
- With your wounds and your wounding of others?
- With your life, your future, your relationships?
- With your loved one's lives, your spouse's life, your children's lives?
Jesus came to us, lived among us face-to-face, to show us the Father. Take the risk-tell God that you are willing to experience a face-to-face encounter of Grace.
Next time... I'm going to tell you about my two-year old daughter, a purple snowsuit, and my deepest, darkest fear. (But, don't be afraid. It has a happy ending!)
©2008 Vine, Vision & Voice
Nancy R. Buschart
 "On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them...Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" [John 14:20-21, 23 NRSV]