Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Perfect love casteth out fear (1Sam 12)

Chapter 12 is pretty much a one-issue chapter. Samuel gives an address to the people of Israel, and while he is not dying just yet, this has the flavor of a farewell address.

He gives a brief summary of Israel's history from the Exodus to the present, in the middle of which, as a sign of his supernatural authority, he calls down a thunderstorm. The people are afraid.

"Should we fear God?" the SAB asks, and it's not the first time. Nor is this the first time I have replied to the concept. While I think the answer I gave back in Joshua stands up pretty well, I think there might be more that could be said about it.

Fear of God is a strange and important thing. I don't know that I've outlined it here, but I have a great deal of fear of my father. The kind of fear I have of him at this time in my life is different than the fear I had of him as a child that I explained in my last writing on this subject, but I think it still applies in a way. (Then again, maybe this is more of a personal aside than real commentary on the Bible; excuse me while I indulge in some catharsis.)

My father and I had a falling out when I was just twelve years old, and as a result, I haven't spoken to him in well over 20 years. The fault for what happened was entirely on his side (although not necessarily entirely him, I know he was being influenced by others in an unhealthy manner at that time in his life), but I don't think I hold a grudge against him for it; I never got the impression that he quite understood that I was just a child. (Once, when I was six years old, he asked me if I'd given much thought to college.)

The point of all this is that after all these years, despite the fact that he is no longer really a part of my life, I have fear of him. Since my father is Jewish, he's always had a disliking for Christianity; it's common among Jews, and honestly often with good reason. Apparently late in his life he has become an orthodox Jew, so I'm guessing his views on the matter have not liberalized. Generally, I don't care that anyone knows I'm a Christian, but when we get down to specifics, I'm not keen on letting my father know, and it's one of the barriers (among many) for me in getting back in touch with him. Even with him being largely not a part of my life for roughly two-thirds of it, and even though my Christianity is one of the more important things to me personally, I still have a fear of disappointing my father, a fear of rejection. Now it may be that it's unhealthy for me not to confront this fear, but I'm pretty well convinced that it's healthy for me to have this fear. It shows me that despite all the hurt and "water under the bridge", my father still means something to me. He should, because he was there in my early childhood and I loved him dearly. On some level, I still do.

What does all this have to do with fear of God, though? If the God of Israel exists, if He's really there, then God should matter. He should matter deeply. Why shouldn't we fear Him? I fear God on a much deeper and more fundamental level than I fear my earthly father, because he was there for me in my early childhood, in my late childhood, and all through my adulthood as well. He was there for my parents and grandparents. He was there for my people (though I am not technically a Jew, I still identify with them) throughout history. He has always been there, He created us and saved us through His Son, and I love him very dearly. I do think it's natural and appropriate to fear God, not that we feel God is going to hurt us, but that we are going to hurt God because He cares for us so much. Just as we can hurt our parents by hurting ourselves, so we can hurt God in the same way. To me, that's incredibly scary.

In 1John 4:18, John writes "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." I don't know if John is saying something about a specific type of fear (Greek is more precise than English and Hebrew in some aspects, it would be worth checking) that is cast out by love, or if he is talking about a point in time where the love we have is "made perfect" in that our relationship moves beyond fear because we have learned to love well enough that we no longer tend to fall so badly. Either is a possibility and both seem like very good places to be.

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