David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Fearing the Lord”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 5: Joy in Fearing the Lord [3 of 3]

 

Once I relinquished legalism, once I let go of my Pharisaic mindset, once the Spirit convinced me that, as an adopted son of the Most High God, heaven was indeed my destiny and eternal life my reward, the terror of hell, which had preoccupied my mind for so long, gradually released its power, and I became free to live the life God intended for me. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians.  “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NRSVCE).  And to the Romans he wrote “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15 NRSVCE).  Abba is the Aramaic word for “Daddy,” and once I let go of the terror of hell and climbed up into my Daddy’s lap with awe and wonder, faith and hope, my heart opened to God’s continuous presence, and with it the potential and reality of the Spirit’s fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Because, as Paul wrote in Galatians 5:23, “There is no law against such things.”

“The fear of the Lord delights the heart,” Ben Sira wrote in The Book of Sirach, “and gives gladness and joy and long life.” (Sirach 1:12 NRSVCE).  And as fear of the Lord brings joy and celebration to our hearts, “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11 NIV).  Growing up Catholic I experienced this fear in the reverential atmosphere of every mass, and especially in the Easter Vigil mass and midnight mass on Christmas Eve.  In those celebrations we sent our prayers and praises to the Father on the rise of incense and the lowering of eyes, in the solemnity of hymns and the hush of Eucharist.  I knew God sat on His throne, but at the time I didn’t comprehend I could “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NRSVCE).  It’s no accident the three Synoptic Gospels record that, at the moment Jesus gave up His spirit, the curtain of the temple “was torn in two from top to bottom.” (See Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45).  This tearing of the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place–the Holy of Holies–symbolized the initiation of direct access to God (starting from the top) by anyone (ending at the bottom) through the blood sacrifice of the Jesus, the atoning Lamb of God, because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22b).

Now I have no fear, no terror, no phŏbŏs, of God’s judgment, because I have been bought for a price, and have been found blameless in His sight as I walk in His righteousness willingly given and humbly accepted.  “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7 NRSVCE).

With this realization, the door to a satisfying, exciting, and joyful relationship with the Most High God, the Lord of lords, the King of kings can begin by letting go of your chains of slavery to servile fear and putting on the garment of filial fear, bowing your head, and opening your heart to the love, gifts, and promises of the One who deserves the focus of our entire being.  As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 33:8: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all who dwell in the world revere him.” (Psalm 33:8 NASB).  Alleluia!

 

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 5: Joy in Fearing the Lord [2 of 3]

As I mentioned in Chapter 3, the first Proverb Hannah memorized as part of her first grade My Father’s World curriculum was Proverbs 9:10, “If you really want to become wise, you must begin by having respect for the Lord.  To know the Holy One is to gain understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NIrV).  The NIV translation is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV).  And Psalm 111:10 echoes this proverb: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.  To him belongs eternal praise.” (Psalm 111:10 NIV).  When we recognize our limitations, when we dismiss our flippancy and our pride, when we quit trying to use God as a genie to obtain our selfish desires and accomplish our self-centered goals, when we take God out of our little box and place Him back on His throne, recognizing His vastness, His infiniteness, His omnipotence, and His absolute sovereignty, that is fear of the Lord.  And after this foundation of proper perspective has been established, only then can wisdom begin to grow in our hearts, and with wisdom, joy.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica: “If a man turn to God and adhere to Him, through fear of punishment, it will be servile fear; but if it be on account of fear of committing a fault, it will be filial fear, for it becomes a child to fear offending its father.” (The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Chapter 19: The Gift of Fear, Article 2, as quoted from http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3019.htm).  To put it another way, servile fear is the fear a slave has for his master, i.e., fear of punishment.  Filial fear is the fear a son has for his father, a deep respect and reverence, but also a fear of offending his father because of his deep love for him.

I have to admit I spent a large part of my life as a slave to ignorance, living in servile fear of God’s punishment, and one of my deepest fears was dying in a state of sin and going to hell for even the smallest infraction.  Every time I missed the mark, no matter how big or small, I logged the trespass in the massive filing system I’d built in my head until I purged it in a confessional weeks, months, or sometimes years later.  Then the mental filing would begin again as I left the confessional, knelt down, said my prayers of penance, then remembered the one sin I’d forgotten to confess and wondered if I’d just bought myself another one-way trip to hell because of my sin of omission.  This continuous monitoring of my current state of sinfulness diminished my energy and focus, impacted my health, and severely limited my experience of joy.  In fact, this obsessiveness had a tendency to morph into depression, which dragged me further into the pit of ineffectiveness for the Kingdom.  Just what the devil wanted.

The thought of eternally treading water with the other banished souls in the lake of fire held me captive, compliant, and subservient to fear, and the vision of hellfire and damnation I learned and reluctantly accepted over the first four decades of my life motivated my actions way more than the truth of God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance.  Somewhere along the way I never quite comprehended the true purpose for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, until the toxicity of the build-up-and-dump pattern I’d learned finally drove me into the arms of a Savior Who’d already forgiven all my sins, past, present, and future.

Somehow, in all the years of faithful churchgoing and religious education, I missed the point in the story about how God put on a flesh suit and emptied Himself out to show us the Father’s love and take away our sins “once for all when he offered himself” as the final sin offering on the cross 2,000 years ago (Hebrews 7:27 NASB).  Needless to say, the very real, very powerful, and very destructive mentality of having to work myself to exhaustion to remain in a state of grace and stay out of hell overshadowed my capacity to experience and express gladness.  I didn’t think about much else, and consequently I was not free to enjoy the life God gifted me with.  Not even close.

Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge the reconciliatory truth of repentance, and the healing power of confession, both spoken and unspoken, but it wasn’t until I began to experience the freeing power of God’s word and the real Truth of Jesus’ sacrifice and the freedom it brings that my servile fear began to yield to filial fear, maybe for the first time ever, and joy again began to bloom in my life.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus promised.  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

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