“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him. . . .” (Psalm 103:17)
What an odd combination: love and fear. Normally, we think about fear as the enemy of love (see 1 John 4:18), but that must not always be true. For, time after time, particularly in the Old Testament, we are encouraged to fear the Lord. In fact, we are told in the Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) And here, in Psalm 103, we are actually told that the Lord’s great love is with those who fear him. So there must be a type of fear that is not the enemy of love, but an intimate friend. A fear that doesn’t drive love away, but actually increases and deepens it.
It is the kind of fear that John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) exhibited when he encountered the Living, Glorified, Eternal Jesus, whose face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance, in Revelation 1:16. John’s response to seeing that Jesus was to fall down at his feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:17) It is the kind of fear that Simon Peter voiced in the middle of a boat full of fish in Luke 5:8, when he said “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” If is the kind of fear that sees the glory and the power and the bigness of our God. It is the kind of fear that Job was overcome by after God showed up in power (in Job 40 and 41), asking Job a series of questions that he could not answer. Job’s only response was: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. I therefore repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5) It is the kind of fear that actually makes love increase. The kind of fear that shows us just how big and wonderful and powerful and glorious our God really is.
I am afraid that, all too often, we miss that kind of fear because we remove it from the picture. We focus on the immanence of God, at the expense of his transcendence. We focus only on the God who is with us, rather than also on the God who is high and lifted up. We try to reduce God to our image, instead of remembering that we were made in his. We get so comfortable with God that we tame him. We remove the qualities and characteristics of God that scare us, or make us uncomfortable, in an effort to make him manageable and understandable. We try to bring him down to our size, rather than allowing him to be the big and wild and free and holy and powerful and untamable God that he is.
Somehow we need to realize that fear and love are not an either or proposition, but a both and. Somehow we need to recapture the glory and the awe and the magnificence of God’s transcendence, without sacrificing the beauty of his immanence. Because this kind of fear is not the enemy of love, but its friend.
O Lord our God, high and holy, yet near and present, help us to honor both your transcendence and your immanence, as we come before you this day. Thank you that somehow they are not enemies, but intimate friends; not opposites, but compliments. Both of them help us to see a part of you that must always be seen, experienced, and acknowledged. Give us the wisdom to know how to hold them together. Amen.