Fear of God, an expression often found in scripture. I understand, of course, that the fear in this context is closer to awe than to our modern understanding fear (something that will or means to do us harm). But there is also “Holy dread” which contains an element of fear in the modern sense. So here are some reasons God frightens me.
God is big. Really big. Every now and then I run across a belligerent non-believer who will ask me how I can believe in a sky fairy, or some white-bearded man who lives in the sky. Well, of course, I don’t believe in either of those. Jewish and Christian teachers and theologians have not believed in such things from the very beginning. Even Plato and Aristotle reasoned beyond that sort of nonsense.
God is big. Really big. His very bigness intimidates me. If one of the greatest minds ever, Thomas Aquinas, was ultimately frustrated in his wrestling with the bigness of God, what chance do I have? This God transcends the universe itself. Not only that, this God may very well have created more universes than a super computer could count. That is big. Really Big.
God may have incarnated as a man, but God ain’t just a man. I even feel uncomfortable sometimes in addressing God as a “he”. But the English language embraces personhood as he or she. God is a person, but even with the incarnation, not just.
God IS. “I AM that AM,” God declares to Moses (a cheeky son-of-a-gun when you think about, actually pressing for a response after asking for God’s name!). Being. Existence itself. Why does this frighten me? Because it means that the only real thing is God. Existence. That which IS. That which is being. Everything not of God simply does not exist. I am an arrogant somebody at times, but not so much that I could ever be smug in believing that after the refining process there will be enough left that can integrate with this unrelenting and ultimate reality to maintain personhood. It seems that it is only God’s will that binds me, and to attempt to exist without it must literally be the greatest of delusions.
God instituted free will. This one is difficult. Hey, God, just make me good! God’s reply must surely be, “What? You want to be like Pinocchio doesn’t want to be?” Think about it. Pinocchio’s wish was to be a “real” little boy. Here I am wanting to be essentially a wooden puppet. God lets us choose the not-God. There’s a trick, of course, the not-God is not real. It cannot stand on its own, because only God is reality. Evil is not a real thing. It is the absence of a real thing. So God isn’t really tricking us. God’s one limitation is his own nature. God can only be who God is. God is more “I am what I am” than Popeye the sailorman. To choose not-God is to choose not-reality. That is a path to madness. Satan is powerful and intelligent, but he is quite mad, you know.
God is love. Hey, that sounds nice! God loves everybody! He loves us all completely! Wait . . . that means he loves everybody else as much as he does me. Whoa, that means he loved Hitler and Hitler’s soul as much as he loved Mother Teresa and Mother Teresa’s soul. That means when I pray one of my whiney, give me, give me, prayers, God is not going to do one daggum thing for me at the expense of another soul. Think about that. It’s a good thing God is big, because that right there is some complex stuff. It’s reassuring to think that God loves your soul and is working to save it, but let’s be honest here, it’s a bit unnerving to think that God is working just as hard for every other soul that has ever been, is, or ever will be. I get no favors at the expense of others. This is especially true in what we call “this life” (or what C.S. Lewis called The Shadowlands).
God is infinite. Well, yeah, we understand that! Or do we? Infinite doesn’t mean time keeps on rolling, rolling and God rolls with it. God exists without time. God experiences things in ways we do not, in ways we cannot. Things happen and have happened at the same “time” for God. Ugh, the language gets stretched thin trying to even explain it. So does my brain trying to imagine it.
Me. It is said that a newspaper sent an inquiry to G. K. Chesterton (among others) asking “What is wrong with the world today?” The story goes that his response was, “I am”. So it is me. I am the reason God frightens me. My doubts. My selfishness. Yet, if God isn’t a paradox, God certainly seems to love one. In the end, it might well be Holy Dread that is my salvation.
Speaking of the bigness of God, the creation, or formation, scene from Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. . .