Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Psalm 34:9-14 Clean and Unclean Fears

Lectionary Reading: Psalm 34:9-14

KEY TEXT; Ps 34:11-14 11 Come, O children, listen to me;he fe I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

KEY THOT: The fear of the Lord is a negative but not a bad emotion. Psalm 19:9 says, “the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.” David the psalmist teaches us the importance of this fear, for it leads to a meaningful and long life where we experience God’s goodness. The fear of the Lord keeps us from evil to "do good" and “seek peace and pursue it.” However, not all fears are clean. There are unclean fears like the fear of ghosts, fear of death, fear of man and fear of eternal punishment. Perfect love of God casts out unclean fears, but not the fear of the Lord which is clean.

We moderns don’t like anything that generate negative emotions like anger, jealousy, guilt—including fear. We reject them as incompatible with “happiness,” which is a positive emotion. However, just as the fear of the Lord is clean, happiness can be unclean. Consider the “happiness” of the thief who has just got away with some goods from a supermarket; or the “happiness” of jihadists who has just beheaded their captives. It’s not true that a positive emotion is always good, nor a negative emotion is always bad. It depends on what triggers that emotion. The fear of the Lord is triggered by an understanding of the glory of God’s holiness—it won’t trifle with the awesome power of God. 

Mount Sinai where God descended was awesome in Moses’ time—it triggered the emotion of fear and kept Israel promising not to sin: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die." Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin." The fear here is unclean because it triggers by fear of death. So Moses had to reassure them not to fear, "for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin."

Some preachers like to emphasize that NT teaches that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). The “fear” mentioned by the apostle John to be cast out is the unclean fear of eternal punishment, not the fear of the Lord himself, for he qualifies his statement with this: “For fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). This fear is unclean. It is not to be confused by the fear of the Lord, which is clean, for the Cross has set us free from eternal punishment. 

But the Cross doesn’t change God’s attribute of awesome glory and holiness, which the Apostle John found out at Patmos, where he received the Revelation: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:12-17).

Christ in his fully glory remains an awesome sight, like sun in its fullness: no astronauts should contemplate going near the sun at any time and not be consumed by the continual nuclear explosions that generate a temperature of 5,500 degree Celsius on the Sun's surface. In the same way, no one should trifle with God nor come into His presence carelessly, for his awesome power and glory is greater than the sun, for He created all the suns (stars) in the Universe. Like John, if we ever see Him in his unveiled glory, we would naturally fall down as dead—notwithstanding the fact, that as believers his glory will not consume us.

I don’t need to apologize for the need to have fear of God, any more do I need to apologize to a child to dread fire. God's glory is not diminished by the Cross, but the blood of Christ protects us from being consumed. We need to teach the “fear of the Lord” to our next generation of believers so that they will “turn from evil and do good” and “seek peace and pursue it.”

But we must be careful not to create unclean fear by focusing on God’s eternal judgment in hell, for that fear is cast out by the perfect love of Christ. By like David, we must teach our children "to fear the Lord" (Psalm 34:11). 

Father, You are an awesome God, full of glory and power. Help us to always have this healthy fear of You, for You are totally unlike us and we should never try to bring You down to our level to become our buddy rather than our God. Amen.

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