“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 103:4)
Isn’t that backwards? I know that this brief line of Biblical poetry puzzled me when I first heard it. Today it would be written differently. Something like “with You there is so much love and forgiveness, therefore: I will praise You, love You, want You to be my best friend, etc.” No fear would come up. Wouldn’t even occur to us. We worship like we’re using hallmark cards for our bulletins. So why does this ancient poet say this? Or more to the point, why don’t we? Because we’re backwards. The text isn’t. Someone will say, “oh, that’s just a primitive understanding from an ancient book, not the loving God that I worship. He isn’t like that.” Oh really? Is that why Jesus, as the reality of the cross grows in Him, as He weeps in the garden right before it happens, as He pleads with God – is that why He shakes with a terrible blood sweat? No. Jesus knew forgiveness had to be forged, and therefore He feared – truly feared – because of what only He really knew. When He looked down at his hands, that just held His head as He prayed and cried, He saw a horrifying smear of blood from his face. That’s terrifying, and the presence of a holy terror was in His soul. He’s staring into hell, and knows He will drink all of hell itself. The dark truth I know is this – I should be facing that. It shouldn’t have been His Son. The greedy gullet of hell should swallow me whole. But then comes a disturbing reality. It doesn’t happen. My God forgives. He shuts hell’s mouth with the blood of His Boy. Joy of joy, my God forgives. Backwards and forwards, my God forgives! It is just at this moment of wonder that something happens. Fear enters in, because there’s just no way to make sense of that kind of love. The cross is an awful sight, God’s own Son dying in pain, rejection, and abuse. If He exacted that cost from His Dearest, to call me His beloved, what is He capable of? This isn’t servile fear I feel, flinching at a raised hand. This is awe, realizing that I have no control over this God, not even over His mercy. This is knee knocking fear, where all the grandeur and purity of Holy love is now given to a man who isn’t pure or grand or holy. Even as I imagine I must slink away from His presence because of who I am, I’m free to boldly walk across the sapphire floor at His feet. Jesus loves me! Fear now aches in my gut with a sense of joy at His Name and His throne. I can toss good sensible prayers to the wind! Why not?!?! The Son of glory dies to set the wicked free! That’s me! The sensible stuff is all gone now. I am made holy when I realize I’m not. I’m accepted when I see I shouldn’t be. I’m heard when I ought’ve been ignored. Backwards after all and all glorious, in Jesus’ Name. Amen. What can keep you from praying now? Amen.