Monday, June 22, 2009

Fear of God, Faith in God.

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4:35-41
Bror Erickson

[35] On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." [36] And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. [37] And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. [38] But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" [39] And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. [40] He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" [41] And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" [41] And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"

It is a bit ironic that Jesus chastises the disciples for being afraid for lack of faith, and the disciples respond by being filled with an even greater fear. There is another depth to this irony in that the great fear that fills the disciples after Jesus says these things is actually a manifestation of the faith that is taking root in their hearts. They are now being confronted with the reality of who Jesus is, and fear is a most appropriate response for sinners in the face of God. That is what they are coming to realize, that Jesus is God, and not just some prophetic miracle worker the likes of Elijah. No, Jesus commands the wind and the waves directly, nature listens to him. The disciples are beginning to realize it isn’t the waves they should be afraid of but the man sleeping calmly in the battered boat about to sink. In away faith, fear is being redirected from creation to the creator.

Fear of God is actually a component of faith in God. It is probably one of the neglected components. Teaching Sunday school kids that they should be afraid of God is not high on the priority list of most Sunday school curriculums. We tend to concentrate on the other two components of faith in our teaching, love and trust. However, it is these three cords together, fear, love and trust in God above all things, as Luther defines faith and explains the first commandment in his catechism, that form “the threefold cord that is not easily broken.” (Eccl. 4:12) Yet it is often fear that creates a barrier to faith, misdirected fear that is. It is for this reason that Paul writes Timothy saying: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim. 1:7 (ESV) For when you have a proper fear of God, there is nothing else to fear. And when you have nothing else to fear you are filled with power, love, and self control.

The disciples were afraid. They were afraid of wind and waves that might sink the boat they were on amidst the sea of Galilee. Wind is no stranger to this lake that nestles like a giant blue eye under the snow capped burled brow of the Golan Heights. Wind drives down with cold air crashing against the surface of the water with brute force. The fishermen among the disciples were not experiencing their first brush with death and drowning on this lake. Fear set in.
Jesus though is pulling a Jonah, sleeping on a cushion. Mind boggling. I mean, I imagine that at least a few of the disciples though being afraid were able to calmly go about their duties while keeping panic at bay. But sleeping is another matter all together. I’ve been on a few choppy boat rides myself. Crossing the Baltic in a rainstorm on a fairly good size ferry was the first time I ever saw people fall upstairs. Painful that, especially with the accompaniments of sea sickness. I can’t imagine sleeping through something like that. Jonah did once as he headed for Tarshish for fear of evangelizing Nineveh. And not here is Jesus doing the same. All the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus the God/man.
But Jonah woke from his sleep to learn to fear God, as panicked sailors through him overboard into the belly of a Big Fish. Jesus woke to show that he was the God that should be feared more than the death and destruction of squall.
“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” The disciples were afraid of the storm because they didn’t know who Jesus was. Up until now he was their rabbi, perhaps even a prophet, who was able to cure people of ailments. Literature of that day shows that miracle working was accepted by the people. I mean Jesus wasn’t the only guy on the market claiming to be able to cure lepers and so on. He of course did cure them, I have skepticism where others are concerned. The point is people weren’t convinced of anything special concerning Jesus when he healed these people, except that they brought their sick ad injured to him. Others were reported to do the same. I’m sure many people looked at Jesus with the same suspicion I have of Benny Hinn, and New Age mystics. But here he does something incredible. He gets up and barks a command at the forces of nature. And the wind and sea obey him.

[8] "Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
[9] when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
[10] and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
[11] and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed'? Job 38:8-11 (ESV)

Oh the disciples knew as well as Job who it was that did these things. It was God, creator of heaven and earth, and the sea listens to God and God alone, even as he promises that
[22] While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." Genesis 8:22 (ESV)
Nature listens to God and God alone. Nature, creation answers to the creator. When Jesus commands the wind and the sea, and they obey him, he reveals himself to be very God of very God. Now they have fear, true fear, right fear, and this fear is faith, belief that they are now in the very presence of God himself.
Fear often accompanies the presence of God. You see it in Isaiah as he cries out woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips. Sinners cower in the presence of God, because it can only mean certain death if there is no forgiveness. Sin cannot live in the light. But with faith there is forgiveness, light that kills sin, yet saves the sinner.

Fear, how often is it misdirected in our lives. Fear, how often is it lacking in that which we call faith? Proper fear of God shuns sin. No one who fears God takes it upon himself to decide when life begins, or when it should end, despising that great gift god has given us. Proper fear of God does not delve in to the loveless objectification of others as mere means to the ends of self gratification. Proper fear of God does not stay quiet when one needs to speak up in the name of Christ, or right and wrong. But fear of the world and of what others might think often shuts us up. Fear of death sends us headlong into a life of drunken excess trying to kill and numb the pain, knowing that death is around the corner haunting every step of the way. But fear of God, united with love and trust stare death in the eye, and say peace, be still. For our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who became man, HE has conquered death in our name, he has forgiven our sins, and with these words, peace be with you quells the squalls of guilt and death in the hearts of those who fear him.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Anonymous said...


Part 1 of 2

This is one I’ve wrestled with for a long time, what is the fear of God of which Luther speaks when he puts it together with “love and trust”, as in “fear, love and trust” concerning the first commandment (what does this mean). Of the three “fear” is the hardest to grasp, I think. As you said because there can be a wrong fear. How does one fear God rightly and yet approach His thrown of grace boldly as Scripture says? These seem so opposite of each other.

One day I was reading, again, Luther’s HD. I cannot recall the thesis number at this moment but it was the one or two in which he is expounding on what is a true mortal versus a true venial sin, using the old RC language against itself. Now here is where the paradigm in the Baptistic and Reformed tradition gets in the way, more on that in a minute. He first points out that the only true mortal sin (deadly sin, that separates one from God) is that sin which is perceived and confessed as only venial (not a deadly), and that the only true venial sin is that which is perceived and confessed as being truly mortal or deadly. Then, with that in mind, Luther states something very profound. It goes something like this (speaking of the old RC distinction between deadly works and dead works being basically non-sense), “To call any work ‘not deadly’ and only dead seems to be a perilous surrender of the FEAR of God”.

Now if one comes from a Baptistic or Reformed background that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense because “once saved” or “once regenerated as the elect” one cannot fall away. But in reality it is confusing to the Baptist/Reformed just as it is for the RC for the same functional reason. If one somehow discerns one is truly converted and ergo elect, one can then logically deduce that one cannot fall away (assuming one can some how do that viewing the ‘fruits of the faith’). In other words in that paradigm how can any good work be deadly (that which separates one from God in reality). One can only be saved/elect or not, one side of the line or the other. However, in principle this acts much like RC-ism for one must somehow discern truly good works that rise to the level of being of saving faith in order to discern that salvation/rebirth/election, and here one must find, in the lingo, nothing more than “venial” sins using Rome’s language. And indeed one finds that in much of the writing on the subject. The question one asks under Baptist/Reformed paradigm is common. Something like, “how much “sin” in a work is acceptable” (venial in RC thought, not venial in Luther’s thought). This is a constant common question in Baptist/Reformed circles, because its just as crucial for the believer to know “am I saved/reborn/elect or not” as it is in Rome’s “did I fall away or not”, same issue both sides. And works/sins must be assessed accordingly the exact same way by the believer in both paradigms. In fact in one of John MacArthur’s books he attempts to peal this a part, sins/works that don’t prove having “never been saved” – and fails just as badly as the Pope did at common the anxious conscience. Dr. MacArthur is not alone in those paradigms in doing this though.


Anonymous said...

Part 2 of 2

So instead of RC mortal/venial lingo one still has in principle “the sin that proves I’m not saved/reborn/elect” (RC’s “mortal” minus “can fall away”), and “the sin that allows still that it does not disprove I’m not saved/reborn/elect” (RC’s “venial”). Either paradigm, Rome on one side and Baptist/Reformed on the other, one must in viewing “sin” and one’s works in one’s life make a distinction by any other name between “truly deadly sin” versus “dead sin” or “truly deadly works” versus just “dead works”, dead versus deadly being the operative language. So that in RC-ism one has “venial” versus “mortal” such that the former is “not so bad sins or works” variously defined that don’t cause a fall away, and as to the later “bad sins or works” that do cause the fall away. Similarly with a slight twist in Baptist/Reformed one has “those sins/works that do not rise to the level as counter proofs of salvation/rebirth/election” versus “sins/works that do rise to the level as counter proofs of salvation/rebirth/election” such that the former is “not so bad sins or works”. The only substantial thing that has changed has been the possibility of falling away or not (Rome versus Baptist/Reformed), the view sin/works is precisely the same.

So in the examination of one’s works and attending sins one must, in either situation, as Luther put it, “To call any work ‘not deadly’ and only dead seems to be a perilous surrender of the FEAR of God”. For both Rome and Baptist/Reformed the “dead” but not deadly work is something “bringable” before God, and to Luther that is a perilous surrender of the fear of God. The over all point being that not only the overt open sinner has no fear of God, sinning so blatantly in front of God, but neither does he who brings his works to God as if good and thus both are deadly sin, that which separates one from God eternally unto damnation.