July 23, 2012

The Fear of God

The day that Japan was hit by its largest earthquake in recorded history, I watched the aftermath on footage filmed from an aerial view. The 8.9-magnitude earthquake left hundreds dead and thousands unaccounted for. The smothering tsunami swept away entire towns. The video was chilling, not only because of the massive damage, but because it all looked so easily done.

Awful Chaos
From a position overlooking the harbor, I saw where once grand, masterful ships were tipped over and appeared so small and trifling, like toys in a basin of restless water. Sturdy highways were broken in half2012 1520 page14 or submerged underwater; vehicles and buildings appeared as if they were toys toppled over by a toddler’s hand. I felt eerie and sad as I watched. My first thought was: Humankind puts so much trust in what we have—our houses, ships, cars, buildings, our lives—yet one gust of air or rush of water can destroy everything in seconds.

Human lives and man-made possessions weren’t the only things affected by the disaster. The earthquake moved the coast of Japan an alarming eight feet. And if that’s not enough, reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated that the quake shifted the earth on its axis by nearly four inches!

As much as we might think we have control over our lives, communities, and world, we ultimately have none. Knowing that my family and I could be blown away or engulfed in an instant, suddenly I felt so insignificant; not fearful of what could possibly happen, but fearful of God in His almighty power and control. I understood Isaiah’s words:

“It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He brings the princes to nothing;
He makes the judges of the earth useless.
Scarcely shall they be planted,
Scarcely shall they be sown,
Scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth,
When He will also blow on them,
And they will wither,
And the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high,
And see who has created these things,
Who brings out their host by number;
He calls them all by name,
By the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power;
Not one is missing” (Isa. 40:22-26, NKJV).*

Lift Up Your Eyes
I was reminded of how often I forget to “lift up [my] eyes on high” to see my Creator. Today’s theology has come to emphasize, more often than not, the “Christ characteristics” of God. We easily accept and understand divine compassion—and a God who is full of compassion (Ps. 86:15). We believe in forgiveness and expect forgiveness (Luke 6:37). And grace is our watchword. We are saved by grace, we insist (Eph. 2:8). And we have to learn to forgive as God for Christ’s sake forgives us (Eph. 4:32). We know that if we make mistakes, God loves, forgives, and provides for us regardless, for we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). It is only by the grace of God that we flutter about making lives for ourselves, though they are, in most cases, more complicated than they have to be. Yet as we thank and praise God all the while, do we also revere Him? Do we fear Him?

Think about it: Do we live as though it is God who gave us life and breath (Acts 17:25), and can just as easily take it away (Ps. 104:29)? Do we remember that He is the God who slew the Egyptians’ firstborn, from royalty, to prison captive, to domesticated beast (Ex. 12:29, 30), who parted the Red Sea, saving the Israelites and destroying the Egyptians (Ex. 14:15-31; Ps. 106:8-11)? Do we realize that He is the God who makes nations rise and fall, removing and setting up kings (Dan. 4:17)? That He is the God who through Christ prophesied natural disasters such as the Japan earthquake (Matt. 24:7)? Far from being the acts of a spiteful God, they express the compassion of one who knows all things and wishes that none should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He tells us so we can see more of the big picture. For how easily we forget to see the big picture! Yet God sees the big picture and controls it, throughout time.

His compassion truly matters because of the boundlessness of His awesome power. He can easily take our sinful lives or wreak total destruction, as He one day will, on this sin-filled earth that He created (Rev. 20:9-15). It is in this light that I can understand Isaiah’s plea:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of   unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5, NKJV).

True Worship
Isaiah saw God in all His power and glory. When we see the Lord of Hosts as He truly is, realizing the infiniteness of His greatness, power, and holiness, we will consider ourselves as filthy rags at His feet with nothing more to say but “Here am I, have your way with me.” This is true worship.

This is the beginning of a sober, humble fear of God; the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10).

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Vanessa Sanders works as the director of a preschool and enjoys spending her spare time with her family, as well as reading and writing.  This article was published July 19, 2012.