Monday, July 17, 2006

A Terrible Thing

The othere day a good friend of mine told me, almost in passing actually, that his favourite verse was Hebrews 10:31:

"It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Why is that his favourite verse? I actually haven't asked him yet, but since he mentioned it that line has been ringing in my ears. It is a difficult one to wrap your mind around. But I feel like I'm kind of starting to get it. Trouble is, I don't feel I can explain it. But I'll try anyway.

This summer my wife and I have been trying to figure out what to do. Everyone has these decision times; turning points; crossroads, or whatever. Anyway, point is, try as I might I haven't been able to shake this nagging desire to stay in God's will; to be sure our decision is what he wants.

I don't know if you've noticed, but God's will can be hard to track. And even harder to see ahead. So there is this trial and error, give and take between me and God and he's like the relentless hound of heaven who won't let me go on my own. I can go prayerless for months if I try, but I'll never be happy. Call it mercy, no doubt, but it can be a terrible sort of mercy, you know? Much better than the terror of rejecting God, but terrible in an "I can hardly handle it" sort of way.

This summer I've also been reading some Fredrick Buechner. The Son of Laughter i't's called. Its a really good novel based on the story of Jacob. And the startling thing to me in this book is that the characters never used God's name. We know that in Old Testament times God's name was considered too sacred to write with the vowels, so it came out YHWH. But in this novel the people took it a step further and made up a name:

They called God "The Fear".

Actually, one of the characters didn't even say that. She just said "he" and bulged out her eyes so you knew who she meant.

And it made me think how flippant I am, with my "Lord" this and my "Father-God" that. I celebrate how boldly we can say his name, by the grace of God. But I guess I'm saying I'm getting some of that holy fear back. Maybe because I have kids now and it scares me to death to think how easily I could mess up their lives and it makes me beg God to help them find HIm and love Him and turn out okay, despite their dork of a dad. And I'm begging God, see, because He doesn't have to do that. He doesn't have to do that for any of us.

But He's the hound of heaven, and He does. He's merciful that way. But his mercy can be hard to take. Once we accept it, he doesn't let us off the hook that easy. He seems to take great delight in refining our character. You know when you have to swallow some bitter cough syrup because it'll make you better and your dad says, "It'll put hair on your chest"? Well, he got that from God. He knows we have some hard lessons to learn, and he puts us through them, if we follow him. And while I hate to consider the alternative, I have to say that sometimes it can be terrible to fall into the hands of the living God. He's too much! And that's him holding back!

We don't think about God's transendence much do we? I don't anyway. His immanence, or his closeness, is all the rage these days, and for good reason don't get me wrong. But isn't the immanence only amazing because of the transcendence?

I think we feel that if we talk about The Fear of God we'll lose people. People we're trying to reach with The Love of God. Thats a heavy thing to have on your head. But we can't forget the fact that the Love is almost meaningless without the Fear. If God is not Holy and Inapproachable then who needs a cross? Who needs Jesus?

And in the end, here's the most amazing thing: no one quite knows how terrible it is to fall into the hands of the living God as well as Jesus. He went there. He took it on the chin, and like none of us could have done, he got back up again. And so even at these moments when I feel like I'm coming to grips with The Fear, I remember the words Jesus used so often with his disciples: "Do not be afraid." Wow. And yet somehow still it causes me to tremble.

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