What’s more terrifying than an invisible force, possessing unlimited power, that is completely invincible, and fancies itself the judge of all? Well, not much really. I think this is generally a reason why many people find themselves slightly afraid of God.
I know I’ve felt that fear. I remember being a little kid in Sunday school, singing a song that goes something like this:
“Be careful little eyes what you see,
For the Father up above,
is looking down with love,
so be careful little eyes what you see.”
Yes, the lyrics mention God being loving, but I had never met anyone that was so set on finding my mistakes who gave me the impression of love. Instead, I mostly felt terror. As I entered my early adolescent years, I was pretty confident that I had pretty much given up any chance of avoiding hell.
Over the following decade I learned many lessons and made many bad decisions. My fear of God was biblical in its intensity. But it had grown into something that wasn’t actually described in the Bible. I was a big fan of Jesus, though. He was fun and cool. He’d hang out with me even when I made bone headed decisions. Jesus didn’t expect me to be perfect and he didn’t hold punishment over my head. I did what I could to avoid God and stick close to Jesus.
Here’s what I didn’t know. Jesus was actually on God’s side the whole time. In time, my spiritual pursuit of Jesus taught me lessons about God that I didn’t want to learn. As I entered my mid 20’s my perception of God began to change radically. This is when my fear of God reached a fever pitch.
See, I don’t do relationships well. I’m fine with acquaintances. I don’t particularly get energized by small talk, but you can be sure I’d rather talk about the weather than my inner thoughts and feelings. To let a person enter into my life with any sort of depth requires deliberate and focused action on my part. The lesson I eventually learned about God from my pursuit of Jesus is that God is not actually who I had given him credit for being. It began to dawn on me that he didn’t want to destroy me. He liked me. He wanted to know me and wanted me to know him.
I read a book once that was helpful in wrapping my mind around this. The book regularly made my skin crawl because it kept referring to God’s desire for “intimacy.” I may be a full grown adult, but this word transports me back to how I felt in Middle School Human Reproduction classes. In the end, the most terrifying truth about God is that he wanted me to be near him. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is far more fear inducing for me than a God that is just angry all the time.
I wasn’t prepared for this at the time. I really don’t think I’m any more prepared for it now. For me, the angry God myth offered a valuable cover. It allowed me to embrace my buddy Jesus, to limp along the path of spiritual growth, and to avoid any real pursuit of God himself. If I’m honest, I knew all along that if God would sign off on the whole Jesus’ death on the cross thing, then he couldn’t actually be as vindictive as I made him out to be. But as long as my view of him was one of wrath and fury, then I could avoid getting too close.
I’m at a point now where I know, intellectually, that God is not bothered by me. He doesn’t hate me. He doesn’t want my downfall. He doesn’t want to hold a grudge. This thought is planted firmly in my head and I refer to it often. However, this truth has not made the journey from my head to my heart. I don’t feel fear at the thought of God’s judgement. I feel fear at the thought of God’s love. I can’t, for the life of me, get a grasp on how that could be his response.
I don’t think I’ve walked far enough to know what it takes to change how I feel about God’s view of me. I think the only way to start is to claim where I am. That would be the case for you, too. I’m also practicing re-reading the two greatest commands on a regular basis. This is actually what ultimately convinced me of the truthfulness of my conclusion. See, the second command is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. It eventually dawned on me that if I had that last bit out of wack, it might just throw the whole thing off balance. I know that’s not new information, but it was one of those things that I had selectively ignored for years.
I hope I’m able to feel the truth of what I know sooner rather than later. I also hope you are able to grasp it for yourself. That’s not altruistic. If you figure it out, I’d really like to steal your answer and see if it works for me, too!