God is frightening.
There are many things about God that are frightening. He has unstoppable power. If He wants, He can save someone or destroy someone in a moment. He is absolutely holy. There is no one in the universe who hates evil more than He does. His justice is absolute. He will never compromise when it comes to punishing sin exactly the way it ought to be punished. His sovereignty is supreme. He has the complete right to do with His creatures whatever He wants.
One of the words we use to describe God is awesome.
But for some reason that word doesn’t seem to carry the weight it used to. A word Jonathan Edwards used in its place to describe God is terrible. “God is terrible both to good and bad of his creatures in a very different manner.” By terrible, I think he means terror producing. In the godly, this terror is really better spoken of as reverence. It’s an awe and dread that’s filled with joy and without really the least bit of worrying about pain or punishment. Whereas for the ungodly, it’s terror as we normally think of it. Or at least it will be when they see God for who He really is. Horror, amazement, a terrifying realization of what is to come.
I am afraid sometimes we are not afraid enough. Our lack of fear causes me to fear that we may not be seeing God for who He really is.
The fact is if we just look closely at the truths about God we are comfortable with, we’ll see even those truths are worth trembling over.
For example, God is love.
Hardly anybody wants to argue with that. But think about the way the Bible tells us He has shown His love. Even the way He shows mercy should produce fear. Obviously God shows mercy to produce joy in those whom He rescues. But, if we look more closely at the way He goes about giving these blessings to those who are undeserving, we’ll see how awesome those works really are.
We can start with the way He saved us. As we look at the sufferings of Christ, we often do so with joy, because we know what those sufferings mean for us. But this same work that produces such joy in our hearts and such blessings for us was an act of ‘strict justice and terror with respect to our mediator.’ God didn’t just grant us forgiveness. He punished sin so that we can be forgiven. And the way He punished sin was by pouring out His wrath on His very own son. We see what an awesome God God is when we reflect on the fact that He takes sin so seriously that He could not forgive us without punishing someone as important and beautiful as Jesus in our place for what we did.
Or maybe we can look forward to the way He will save us. We know that when Jesus returns He’s bringing grace for those who trust in Him. But, at the same time, He’s bringing judgment on those who don’t. As Paul puts it, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God.” One reason heaven is going to be such a beautiful place for God’s people is because of the way in which God poured out His judgment on those who aren’t. Even Satan! We think about how evil he is and all the wicked things he’s done, and we look forward to the day in which God punishes him. But what a terrible judgment it will be. Mercy for us, but complete and utter devastation for him!
Now here’s the thing.
If looking at God’s love is terror producing, thinking more carefully about His wrath is even more intense.
And this of course is where most unbelievers start really getting mad. While we might get away with talking about God’s love, if we plainly state some of what the Bible says about God and how He punishes sin, there are many unbelievers who would hate us as a result.
Fear sometimes produces anger, I suppose.
Because it’s not really that they have a problem with punishing sin. After all, they are punishing other people’s sin all the time. It’s not that they have a problem with someone being right. That’s why they are so upset with you, isn’t it? They think they are right and they want you to know it. And it’s not that they have a problem with someone having laws that must be obeyed. They live in countries that set up laws and they are happy about that. It’s not even that they have a problem with something belonging to someone and that person having the right to do with it what they want. I mean, try to take something that belongs to them and see what happens.
It’s that they want to be that person.
That’s the issue.
And it’s very frightening for them when they recognize they are not the ones in charge of the universe.
You see, what the Bible says about God is fear-producing, that’s true but it is also beautiful. These statements about God’s wrath and judgment are not statements that should cause us to be ashamed of Him. Even His terrifying works glorify Him. They show He is just. They show He tells the truth. They make His mercy appear more precious. The reason those terrifying works are so ugly to the unbeliever is not because they are ugly in and of themselves, but because they strike at the unbeliever’s most fundamental desire, and that is, to be his own king.
As long as you are trying to be God, what the Scripture says about God, will produce absolute terror in your heart. If you are still trying to be God and what you have learned about God hasn’t produced that, then maybe you haven’t really heard what the Bible actually says about Him!
It is only once you give up on being God and recognize there’s only One person in the universe who deserves that role, that these very same statements become something beautiful and lovely in your sight.
The fact that God is actually God causes you not only to tremble, but to rejoice.