When my wife and I were first married but before we had kids, some friends asked us to family-sit their brood of children while they traveled out of town for a weekend. We had a blast. We fed them meals. We did their activities. We played games. The only thing was one of the boys wouldn’t talk to me. In fact, he usually rushed out of the room when I entered. Mystified we asked our friends what was he so afraid of. They told us, “He knows that you are friends with the priest and the priest is close to God on the altar. He figured that you are close to God and he is scared of God.”
Honestly, I’m pretty humbled by this. He thinks I’m close to God. As the tremendous sinner that I am all I could think about was how far away from God I usually am! Then it occurred to me that while it is true I can choose to turn my back on God, God chooses to be close to me.
In the gospel this Sunday we hear the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. He goes up on a mount with three of his disciples. His clothes insta-bleach themselves and the very voice of God speaks. They were walking next to God this whole time and only now understand exactly how close to God they had been.
The gospel writer says that they were very afraid. Jesus says, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” The very disciples, the ones closest to Jesus, Jesus’ senior leadership group, were scared of God.
There is a way that we shouldn’t be afraid of God. Signs of this kind of fear of God can be if we pull away from him, if we hide from him, if we avoid church or prayer or even identifying as a church person. If we only see God as a spiteful judge ready to damn us for every mistake, that isn’t a real healthy vision of God.
However, I don’t think that is most of us. Most people don’t hold enough of a healthy fear of God. If you catch me in a moment of honesty, I will tell you that most of the time our understanding of God is far, far too small. God is too much like us in our minds. God is a “just bigger, smarter, more mysterious” version of a human. Because of that we don’t fear God. We don’t fear what we know as much as we fear the unknown. If we don’t fear God it might be because we feel like we know him much better than we really do. If we don’t have a healthy and holy fear of God, it’s because our understanding of him is just too small.
We do fear the powerful. We fear what could end our life like heights or snakes. Public speaking is the fear of the unknown – we don’t know what everyone thinks of us.
Acknowledging that God is marvelous and amazing and big and a little fear inducing while still trying to get close to him is an act of trust. Bowing down before him, holding the dual truths that God is far, far beyond us and yet desires to grow closer to us than we can imagine is an act of worship. Acknowledge the fear, draw close anyway.
LIVE IT: Take 3 minutes before bed tonight to think about your image and understanding of God. Answer these questions – Am I afraid of God? Why or Why not? How does my understanding of God influence my daily life?