Our Fearsome Abba?

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“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

In a recent online search of Scriptures about God as Father, I encountered one person’s vehement reaction to the verse above—in particular, the idea of God as One who wants to be feared.

To be honest, I think we all tend to shy away from verses that mention the fear of the Lord—either because they seem to be inconsistent with our view of God as love, or because we’re afraid such verses will be misunderstood apart from the larger Biblical context, which is probably true. And yet it hurt to read this person’s reaction.

As my emotions bubbled up over their hurtful words toward my Daddy God, I had to remind myself that God’s Power and Truth are greater than man’s misunderstandings—that’s He’s perfectly capable of defending Himself and revealing Himself to whomever He wishes in whatever timing His superior wisdom dictates. And yet I felt compelled to examine and put to words how I personally reconcile the seemingly discordant attributes of Father God.

How, for example, can one Person embody uncompromising holiness—which requires judgment and justice—while, at the same time, allowing mercy and forgiveness of sins? What does it mean to both love and fear God, and how can a God who wants us to fear Him also represent unfailing Love? Even considering the fact that His thoughts and ways are beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9), I believe we can get at least a rudimentary grasp for how to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies in our Heavenly Father’s character through a few related analogies.

Fusion, Fire & Fear

“The Sun contains 99.8 percent of all matter in the Solar System. Under crushing pressure and extreme temperatures generated by gravity, the violent process of nuclear fusion powers the tremendous energy output of the Sun.” (Science Channel YouTube video)

The Sun, our star… Light and heat from fusion… Technically, not fire, though I’m pretty sure the human brain would register close proximity to the Sun as a kind of roasting nonetheless.

The surface of the Sun boasts a temperature of 5,778 Kelvin or 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t know about you, but that commands some respect and makes me pretty glad the earth orbits that blazing inferno at a distance of 93 million miles and no closer. And yet, as glad as I am we’re not next door neighbors to the Sun, I’m equally glad it exists—for the light and heat it provides!

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If we think of God as the Sun (or fire) and sinful man as straw (even flesh), we can begin to understand the meaning of fear. In all its blazing glory, the Sun is a fearsome body indeed—or it would be if we teleported onto its blinding, burning brilliant surface (if an expanse composed entirely of gas can truly be considered a surface)! Even so, before we ever got that close, I’m pretty sure we would vaporize. I’m not being very scientific here since a chemical reaction (“Man + Sun = toast!”) is not my primary concern but, rather, an emotional one (“Oy vey, I’m flambé!).

With a little imagination, we can read Isaiah 6:1-5 (+) and catch a glimpse of the fear manifest in Isaiah’s throne room experience. As you read, try to place yourself in Isaiah’s shoes:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

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In God’s immediate presence (vs 1-4), we can’t help but fear Him because we see ourselves as we truly are: sinners (vs 5) in need of His mercy (vs 6-7). In His presence, we see the truth—and we’re changed (vs 5-8). I realize there are varying degrees of His presence; I don’t consider myself an expert. But the main point is this: Fear is as natural a response to God as if the fiery fusion ongoing in our very own Sun were repackaged into an activated bomb in our very own hands!

In other words, if we choose to scorn God for requiring our fear, we do so with the same results as if we scorned the well-known rule to look both ways before crossing the street—to our own detriment!

A Consuming Fire

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 (see also Deuteronomy 4:24)

The idea of God as fire is not unbiblical, and I’ve found it to be a useful analogy for pondering the melding of love and fear in a believer’s life. We all know that fire and straw don’t mix. In the presence of fire, straw can’t help but disintegrate. Likewise, when a flammable object approaches a blazing fire, the fire can’t help but destroy it. It’s in a fire’s nature to burn just as it’s in God’s holy nature to destroy evil.

There are those who may struggle with the previous statement—and even become offended—but when evil is committed against us, don’t we want God’s justice? When a chill darkness surrounds us, don’t we want light and heat? No one rebukes a fire for burning them when they get too close. Instead, they give it the proper respect—the fear it deserves. In the same way, the one and only God, whose holiness and power far exceeds our own, merits respect, fear, and awe from all those He created and even now sustains with His life and breath (Acts 17:25, in context).

One problem is, we necessarily live apart from God, and as a result, we don’t often see Him rightly—unveiled, as Isaiah did. This is because, in this world, He often conceals from us the full radiance of His glory. This divine posture of hide and seek might seem cruel to some, or even offensive—but truly it’s an act of mercy, for no one may behold His face and live:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20).

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Judgment Delayed—for a time

The evil in our hearts, called sin, consists of anything that separates us from God. It severs us from Him not because He can no longer draw near, but because if He did draw near, His holiness would consume us like chaff in a blazing fire. His aloofness, then—at least in part—is an act of mercy. But that mercy must be balanced with the promise of judgment and justice. As 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance [before the Judgment].”

God longs to fellowship with us, but our sin—not only damaging to our own souls and to those around us—is inherently offensive to His holy nature and sense of Justice. He longs to fellowship with us, but how can fire and straw be joined?

They can’t—unless the straw becomes something new, like gold.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Here is a truth to ponder in depth: God’s love compelled Him to make a Way to restore His bond with mankind—to restore the same kind of intimate fellowship He had with Adam and Eve in the garden, but even better.

“The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:15b-16).

No natural man could bring justice and also save mankind; so God Himself intervened “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3). “He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).

By human logic, justice for the wronged and mercy for the accused can’t possibly mesh. But in God’s economy, nothing is impossible. In God’s economy, righteousness and peace kiss (Psalm 85:10)—at the cross.

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Peace with God

This, then, is how God reconciled Justice and Mercy, Offense and Love, Sin and Peace: “He gave his one and only Son, [Jesus,] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And so, “the punishment that brought us peace was on Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

As cruel as it may sound for any Father to sacrifice His Son, we must never forget that Jesus was a willing participant in this plan. In fact, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-18): “…and I lay down my life for the sheep… No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Many people say they love us, but Father God proved it by sacrificing His Son. Some may wonder if a Father who sacrifices a son can truly epitomize love, but consider this: If by one adult child’s suffering you could save all your other children from death, would you do so?

If the adult child consented, even longed to save his siblings in spite of the pain required to do so, would you not consent?

Father God loves all His children, and so He said, “Yes.”

Consuming to Refining

So, we are reconciled to God through Christ. But the analogy of fire doesn’t end there. When we’re joined with Jesus—grafted into the True Vine—we’re made right with God through Christ. We’re justified (JUST as IF I’D never sinned)—but not yet perfected. The moment we’re rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom, we’re transformed from something like stubble or straw into a substance akin to unrefined gold.

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Just as it’s in a fire’s nature to consume stubble and straw, so also silver and gold are purified by fire:

“[One] third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).

This purification (called sanctification) is a lifelong process culminating in Jesus’s return:

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

And just as Isaiah was forever changed by his vision of God, so also any man, woman, or child who belongs to Christ must also be changed, being clothed with the imperishable—and not just any imperishable substance, but only that which is capable of living in eternal fellowship with God (Revelation 21):

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4)…

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:22-27).

Final Thoughts

It’s not in God’s nature to wish that anyone should perish, but just as fire and straw can’t coexist, neither can sin and impurity survive in the presence of our Holy God.

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I doubt anyone alive truly despises the idea of heaven—though many despise the very idea of God. What these people don’t realize is this: Taking God out of heaven is equivalent to turning heaven into hell. God’s glorious presence is what makes heaven good. His absence is what makes hell bad. In this life, we often take for granted all the marvelous blessings God provides while eagerly blaming Him for every mishap and remaining oblivious to our true enemy who would see us all in hell—with him—if he had his way.

So, if anyone reading this happens to be one of the ones who remain skeptical—maybe even hostile toward God, can I challenge you to pray this prayer:

“God, if you’re real and you really love me. Open my eyes.

An Abiding Peace (of mind)

On a recent trip to Florida, while staying at a hotel the night before my flight home, I found myself in a hot tub alone. There, the thrumming jets transformed the clear green water into a foaming white froth. I had been seeking God’s will for my life—in particular, hoping to learn to hear His voice better: Devouring every resource I could find. Striving to discern that little voice in my mind (or through my reading) that may or may not be God. Constantly questioning if I was doing all I could to hear—and hearing right.

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Amidst the solitude, warmth, and the bubbling hum of churning water commanding my full attention, a clear thought crystallized: “This is your mind.” Immersed in the boiling jets with turbulent currents buffeting my skin, the meaning was clear.

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Tarássō / Troubled

My mind. Always in motion. Rarely settled.

Always studying, questioning, striving, reaching. Ever searching for another glimpse of God’s work in my life—or a hint of His direction for future action. Always striving to be proactive. Even when my goal has been to abide in Him.

My mental norm, in a word: Restless. The Greek root tarássō (from John 14:27, to be discussed below) adequately conveys this state of mind, which according to HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) can mean the following:

“properly, put in motion (to agitate back-and-forth, shake to-and-fro); (figuratively) to set in motion what needs to remain still (at ease); to “trouble” (“agitate”), causing inner perplexity (emotional agitation) from getting too stirred up inside (“upset”).”

Though I crave pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2), it seems I often churn it into butter! I turn God’s Word (and my walk with Him) into a sticky, viscous mess that’s hard to navigate. In lieu of the simplicity of trusting in Him, I revert to complex rules and regulations that stretch my intellect to the max. While my flesh tries to divine the exact ways to act and the exact prayers to pray under a diverse multitude of circumstances, God gives me this simple equation: “You + Me = Success.” 

Eirḗnē / Peace & Wholeness

Clearly this hot tub analogy bears a negative connotation. Surely it’s not the state of mind God intended for His children. After all, what did Jesus say in His parting speech to His disciples just prior to His arrest?

PEACE [Eirēnēn] I leave with you; My peace [eirēnēn] I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be TROUBLED [tarassesthō], nor let it be fearful [deiliatō].” John 14:27

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Rather than allowing our minds to be stirred up in agitation, Jesus calls us to manifest the same inner peace He Himself displayed (Mark 4:35-41). The Greek word translated as peace in this verse (eirēnēn) can mean “one, peace, quietness, rest.” HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) says it like this:

“eirḗnē (from eirō, “to join, tie together into a whole”) – properly, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together; peace (God’s gift of wholeness).”

Wholeness? I don’t know about you, but that’s not the definition I expected. Nevertheless, even the well-known Hebrew word shalom connotes “completeness” along with soundness, welfare, and peace. 

Furthermore, if peace is wholeness, then surely it has no place apart from Him since, from the very beginning, man was made to live in communion with God. Jesus says in His pre-arrest speech, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But when we’re joined/married with Him (Ephesians 5:31-32)? Then we merge our meager resources with His. Our blindness with His sight. Our weakness with His strength. When our very being—like a branch to a vine—is linked to Him, we’ll find we have all we need.

But what’s the caveat? Remember my thoughts from above? Gods-math

That simple equation (“You + Me = Success”) paints a picture of wholeness, BUT… it requires humility and trust. The humility to recognize our deficiency as compared with His power. The honesty to recognize our inadequacy apart from Him.

The Path of Understanding?

It seems human nature to equate uncertainty with stress. An uncertain future. Our plans up in the air. Confusion over the path ahead. Or maybe we’re stuck in circumstantial discomfort. This manner of logic presupposes UNDERSTANDING to be the ultimate pathway for finding peace. Isn’t this the way our human brains think? 

In ignorance (or arrogance), we believe we can orchestrate our own lives, but Proverbs 20:24 says, A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” Likewise, we often think we need to scrutinize our choices before we take that first step, but Proverbs 3:5-6 says to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

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In my early graduate school days, newly acquainted with the idea that believers can actually hear from God, I struggled and strived to make His voice a reality in my life. Most of those efforts ended in frustration. In the book I’m reading now about hearing God’s voice, the author expresses his belief that God is always speaking but we don’t often recognize Him as the source.

This reminds me of a time a few months back when I was praying on the way to church one Sunday, interceding for the service and asking God to prepare our hearts for Him—to shake off what could be shaken so we would see Him more clearly (paraphrase). For some reason (in part because He’d unexpectedly prompted me to prophecy in church on a previous Sunday—something I never would’ve imagined myself doing in the past), I asked Him to give me a clear sign if He wanted me to share that prayer with the church. To my surprise, one of the church leaders began the service by announcing we would have an open mic up front for people to share anything God might’ve laid on their heart!

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Knowing I would go up, I worshipped for a time in preparation. As sometimes happens, I felt His Spirit with me—a confirmation like a tightening in the gut and a shaking beneath His power, though I wasn’t shaking in fear. For me, He often brings His words in a flurry of fresh writing, but not this time. This time, the writing was a flurry of recollection, remembering the prayer I had prayed in the car. That written message is what I shared. After the service, a number of people told me they believed what I spoke was a genuine word from God.

What amazes me about that experience is that I had no idea those words I was praying were from God. Somehow, I’d been so in touch with His heart that He spoke His words through me without me knowing it. Later, in the midst of my more recent struggles to hear His voice, I wrote this in my journal: I’ve been so concerned about hearing from God, but hasn’t He shown me that He can so insert Himself into my thoughts that I pray His heart without knowing it? Am I so powerful I can keep God from getting through to me when He knows I WANT to know and do His will?

Trusting Our Thoughts or Trusting His?

The point in this story (tying it back to Proverbs 3:5-6) is that God didn’t need my intellect and understanding to be engaged at all in order for Him to steer me. Indeed, a reflection on my past proves that God was guiding me all along.

Is it wrong, then, to try and understand our own path?

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In general, I would say no—except when our search for understanding leads us to stray from His peace. After all, there will be times in our lives when He hasn’t given us to understand the reasons behind our day-to-day struggles. In those times—even in the fog and seemingly senseless trials; even in those seasons when we’re not confident we’re hearing His voice at all—He wants us to trust in Him because of who He is: All-powerful. Faithful. Merciful. Kind. Always working for our good. (More on His attributes here.)

The real question is this: Do we spend as much time pondering who God is (e.g.worthy of awe) as we do trying to discern our purpose and our future? Do we meditate on our own thoughts and logic more than we meditate on His (John 15:7)? Are we focused more on pointing our compass toward success than aligning our life with His person—His character (Psalm 103:7)?

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Interestingly, the word translated as acknowledge” [yada] in Proverbs 3:5-6 means “to know (by experience); to perceive, see, find out, and discern; to recognize, admit, acknowledge, and confess.” John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they KNOW you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

When we know God, truly know Him as He is, we’ll have no difficulty entrusting our lives to Him. Even in periods of silence, though we desperately long for a word from Him, we’ll be able to let go and rest in the knowledge that He is bigger than our concerns—that His presence far surpasses our need for answers. In the silence, as we read His word, obeying Him to the best of our understanding, His peace overcomes our restless thoughts in the knowledge that we’re not alone as orphans. Rather, we have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father in Jesus’s name to teach us all things and to remind us of everything Jesus said (John 14:26).

In short, peace of mind doesn’t come from reasoning out the logic of our life circumstances while determining the safest pathway ahead; it is born in a relationship of simple trust summed up in this equation: God + Me = Success. 

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How about you? What topics tend to trip you up? What situations send your thoughts spiraling into a turbulent tailspin? Share in the comments or contact me here for prayer.

If you’re currently stuck in a bubbling-hot-tub mentality, consider making this your prayer:

Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. Interlude

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Visit these links for songs about peace and rest: