The Fearful Tenderness of God

Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared
Psalm 119:38
We live in a world dominated by fear. Fear of terrorists… fear of disease… fear of rejection… fear of unemployment… fear of natural disasters. The rising cost of living and the loss of family ties only encourages us to tremble and cower. Some of us lose faith and “look to the hills,” (Ps 121:1) buying from the shrines of idols snake-oil charms that advertise peace, prosperity, and wholeness, but deliver only bitterness, brokenness, and emptiness.

This is not a new phenomenon, beloveds. Fear is an integral part of us, designed by God as a warning of impending danger. Adam and Eve should have feared the talking serpent, but “he was more subtle and cunning than any beast of the garden” (Gen 3:1). By his lies, he convinced our first human parents to misplace their fear, to be afraid of God instead of trusting Him. In our fallen, broken cosmos, Satan uses the exact same methods. Fear has run amok. Fear has been the tool of tyrants for centuries without end.

God knew this could happen, and designed us accordingly. Our heart, our identity, the core of who we are as unending spiritual beings, can withstand incalculably enormous strains and stresses, given the proper nourishment (which is, of course, God’s love). Even without that nourishment, our hearts have another method of survival. Hardness of heart is, in part, a defense mechanism lost souls utilize against evil. Our hearts harden to survive cruelty, terror, tyranny, all sorts of evil.

Think of earth. Dirt. Soil. With proper irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilization, even hot and arid wilderness can produce abundant crops. But take away that life-giving water, and dirt only has one option. It hardens. The sun is the great tyrant of the desert, and fear is the great ruler of the heart. But the great psalmist who glorifies God’s Word in Psalm 119 has a secret for us.

Love can invoke greater fear than tyranny.

Love can inspire greater terror than cruelty.

Love can generate greater awe than torture.

How can this be, you ask?

Every evil dictator who manipulates fear for evil ends shall be overthrown, no matter how greatly he terrifies his subjects. This is the unbroken testimony of God and history. Even Satan, that great tyrant, has been overthrown. But who can withstand the relentless love of God? Power is not displayed by how many people you can hurt. Real power is displayed by how many people you can afford to help. When God confirms his covenant with his servants, outsiders cower and moan in terror.

The Canaanites feared Abraham and his God because God cared for them.

The Egyptians gave the departing Israelites riches and blessings, because the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had put all their idols to shame and still had power enough to redeem a million people from slavery.

When Israel dwelt before God at her moral and political pinnacle of power, the surrounding nations trembled because “there is a God in Israel!”

Therefore, Jesus says, “But I will show you whom you should fear. Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell: yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5)

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About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 14 June, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for those insights, Nick. It occurs to me that perhaps another way that God’s love results in fear is in the way He loves Himself. It’s because He loves Himself perfectly that He can love us perfectly, and because He loves us perfectly, trouble is ahead for those who hate us/Him. He loves Himself, therefore, He can’t allow His integrity to suffer because of our sin. He had to step in after the fall, not simply because we needed it, but in order to rescue His own glory, which we diminish by our stupid sinfulness. The reason He put up with Israel was for the purposes of His own glory (Is. 43, “everyone who is called by My name, whom I’ve created for My glory . . . “). Borrowing from your desert metaphor, the blaze of the Holy Community (like the sun) burns with white hot love for each other, and it is that love that will test each of us on that Day (1 Co. 3), and it’s that love that will burn away the wood, the hay, the worthless aspects of our character, as we step into Their glory forever. Their mutual love shapes Their awewsome integrity, and I don’t want to think about facing that without trust in Jesus as my mediator and the Spirit as the fire I need today to burn away the stubble NOW! Ben

  2. I am thankful that God’s perfect love drives out fear. I think it is wonderful that we as Christians can be confident in our relationship with God that we don’t fear any thing but Him. “Fear God and keep His commands for this the whole duty of man.” As Jesus said, “Whom shall I fear…” What if Christians everyewhere were not afraid to live the christian life, not afraid to share their faith with others, not afraid to give, not afraid to be who Christ wants us to be as His church. What would God do through us if we took the words given to Joshua to heart. “Be strong and courageous…” My prayer is that God will raise up within each church fearless Christian who aren’t afraid to share their faith and live the Christian life.Thank you for your post.I enjoyed reading your blogGod bless you.

  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    Great post Nick. I know Chili’s a better place because they have a theologian on the pay roll.Shalom,Bobby Valentine

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