We had a fascinating discussion at my home fellowship group the other night. The conversation turned from the wrath of God to the fear of God. We talked about how many churches focus so much on the love of God that we forget that God is to be feared, and that all those in the Bible who encountered the presence of the Father were filled with holy fear. This got me thinking: what about Jesus? If Jesus is God, should we then be fearful of Him? If not, why should we be fearful of the Father?
All of us who call ourselves Christians believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, so why weren’t those who encountered Jesus while He walked among us also terrified? I suppose those who didn’t believe in Him wouldn’t have been fearful, but those who did came to Him boldly, often for healing or simply to worship. Matthew 26:6-13 tells of the woman who came to pour expensive oil on His head. Jesus not only tells his disciples that “she has done a good work for Me,” but He also says that “wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” We also have the account earlier in Matthew where Jesus blesses the little children saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly it seems that Jesus invites us to come freely to Him. He never advised us that we should approach Him fearfully.
This leads me to question how I view the Father as opposed to how I view the Son. I suspect I am not alone in this, but when I think of meeting Jesus in heaven someday, I imagine myself running into His arms with tears of joy running down my face. Yet, when I think of encountering the Father, I am terrified. I realize that my focus shifts. With Jesus, my focus is on Jesus. With the Father, my focus is on myself, and I feel unworthy to be in His presence. I imagine Him looking at me with eyes full of wrath as I curl up in the fetal position before Him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe I am forgiven, and that Jesus has paid the penalty for my sins, but it’s still awfully hard to get that belief from the head to the heart. There’s still a part of me that is fearful that somehow I’ve misunderstood His offer of salvation, and that the punishment I deserve awaits me. My faith is still plagued by a measure of doubt about the grace and mercy of God.
I find comfort in the words of Jesus in John 10:30: “I and My Father are one.” If Jesus is one with the Father, then we can know that the Father is compassionate and desiring to forgive, and loves us so much that He’s willing to lay down His own life for our sake. In fact, Christ came to us in the flesh so that we might know what our Father is like. Jesus says in John 8:19, “You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” Jesus later says in John 18:37, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus being one with God, bore witness to the truth of who God is, so we can know that the Father is like the Son.
I am stating the obvious here, but we don’t understand the Trinity. Though we believe that God is three persons in one, we can’t possibly grasp that truth, and we don’t understand the relationship between them. How is it that God the Father and the Son have existed from eternity past? How can Jesus be the Son without having been born after the Father? And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit! Can anyone even begin to understand it? (The Newsboys gave it a shot back in the day.) This whole idea is so incomprehensible, it’s no wonder that Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible that changed or removed all references to it. It’s also no wonder that Islam rejects the idea as polytheism. Likewise, atheists ridicule the idea as being illogical. Nonetheless, I believe it. Why? For starters, the idea is so strange and intellectually challenging that I don’t think anyone would have devised such an idea if they were looking to sell people on a new religion. For another, I believe the Bible is proven to be reliable in all other areas, and it certainly leads us to believe in a triune God. I also believe that if there is a God, it is likely that He exists in a way that is greater and more mind-bending than we can imagine. Why would He be simple enough that His creation can fully grasp Him? The fact that He came to us in the flesh implies that He needed to step down to our level so we could even begin to know Him.
I think that maybe all of this leaves us a bit confused on how we see our God and how He sees us. Our God is good, and He loves us more than we love ourselves, yet it is so easy to become fearful of Him. Perhaps our fear is a reflection of our inherent guilt. We know we are not worthy to stand before God Almighty. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” None of us love perfectly, so we remain fearful. That could explain our fear of the Father, but it still doesn’t explain why we aren’t so fearful of Jesus. Perhaps it’s because He walked among us and experienced what we experience. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
It seems that our God wants us to put aside our fears and come before His presence, yet at the same time, have a healthy dose of holy fear in the knowledge that He has the power to do with us as He pleases. Jesus warns us in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Many of us do not have a healthy fear of God. We either don’t fear Him enough that we do as we please without regard for Him, or we fear Him so much that we cannot accept the grace He gives us. For some of us, we go back and forth between the two extremes. It’s just so hard to get it right. I want to know God for who He is, and not for who I have made Him out to be. I trust that He is good.
I pray that God would help us to truly honor Him as our Lord and Savior. In these two words we find the balance of a God who is a king and a judge, who has the power to condemn or show mercy, and One who is willing to lay down His life for us in the desire to be with us for all eternity. Our Lord and Savior. Like Father, like Son.