What can we learn from this ancient understanding of our divine relationship?
Psalm Reading: Psalm 111
For Sunday, Jan. 29, Year B − Epiphany 4
In the midst of premarital counseling, I spoke to a young couple about the plethora of things that cause hardship in marriages—trying to discern and mark the bumps that might be in the road ahead.
Filled with Fear
We covered family of origin and attitudes toward money. We talked about children. Did they plan to have them? What if they weren’t able to have kids? What sort of parenting styles made sense to them? How would they discipline their child?
The groom-to-be looked at me steadily and said, “I was afraid of my dad. All he had to do was walk in the room and I was filled with fear. I never want my child to look at me the way that I looked at my father.”
When I had my own precious daughter, each time I looked at her sweet face, I felt consumed by my love for her. As she got older, and I noticed slight pangs of fear in her eyes, I hated them as much as I thought that I would.
God Had Teeth
I remember these moments when I read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The words make me wince. I grew up as a
conservative evangelical where I heard this verse constantly.
God had teeth.
Fear and trembling were the appropriate response to God’s presence. I lived with a palpable sense that I was a sinner in the hands of an angry God that must be feared.
As I grew older and my faith changed, I learned to interpret the word for “fear” in different ways—awe, respect, or reverence. After all, neurologists tell us that imagining an angry, vengeful God can make us angry, vengeful people.
But even modern translators seem to go back to “fear.” The fealty exchange seems clear in the poetry—fear God and God will feed and protect you. You will become wise.
The Hardest Question
Do we play semantic games when we try to explain the words away? The mention of fear is typically wrapped up in abusive relationships, but we can also fear disappointing someone we love dearly. Has our understanding of our divine relationship evolved in some way? I wonder if it is important to fear God? Does it really make us wise?
Carol Howard Merritt is a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church, an intergenerational congregation in Washington, D.C. Western’s deep commitment to serving the poor in the city has helped to initiate programs like Miriam’s Kitchen, a social service program for the homeless which provides a hot, nutritious breakfast and dinner for over 200 men and women each weekday. Carol is the author of Reframing Hope (Alban, 2010) and Tribal Church, (Alban, 2007). Carol is the co-host of God Complex Radio with Landon Whitsitt. And she blogs for the Huffington Post. Carol is a frequent conference speaker. Her blog is at TribalChurch.org.