Saturday, April 30, 2005

Serve the Lord with awe

Psalm Two
Journal entry dated February 19, 2005

"Serve the Lord with awe; with with trembling pay homage to him."

Psalm Two is a song of the great messianic king. God is portrayed as the powerful ruler who puts the allied nations to flight. In the worldview of this psalm, one serves God primarily out of fear, out of the recognition that God is the superior force. God strikes the nations with terror; they pay homage to him because the only alternative is wrath and destruction.

Whether we like it or not, this conception of God as the one to be feared is with us; its roots go down deep into our conscious and unconscious being. Fear is the basis of much of our motivation, the only thing that keeps us in line. In a society that is structured upon relationships of power, perhaps no other conception of God is available than that of the great King, the superlative power, the pinnacle of the pyramid. The family, the community, the state, relationships between states: all are founded upon dominance, with God as the chief dominator.

The question then becomes, if we reenvision and realign our human relationships, can we learn to relate to God in terms other than power and fear? "Serve the Lord with... what?"

Dignity. Wholeness. Joy.

Joy and fear cannot coexist.


weorwe said...

Is all fear bad? I have a tendency to think of fear of God negatively, as the fear of him squashing me under his boot or the fear of him seeking out and destroying any joy I may find. I don't think that's what the biblical fear of God is supposed to be, though. I think fear can be holy awe, an understanding of difference, an acceptance of the non-peer nature of our relationship. I'm not sure holy fear is the same thing as fright. In the few times when I have really felt any understanding of worship, I think holy fear has been part of it, along with joy. There is something wonderful about bowing down to a great authority when it's right -- not someone who's no better than us lording it over us, but the actual real Lord himself. Good authority is protection and security, not a threat. I think we can fear God without fright because we can trust his goodness when we see his power.

Sampson said...

Dear Marcy,

I'm not sure if all fear is bad, but I do believe that, of all the forms of motivation, fear is the lowest and the least reliable overall. The things that we do because we are afraid of something (anger, negative consequences), we do only under the direct influence of fear. That is to say, the behavior ceases immediately if we do not feel fear in that particular moment. This contrasts with actions that we do because they bring us a sense of joy, fulfillment, or satisfaction.

The spiritual masters, including the Fathers of the Philokalia, do not discount the usefulness of fear entirely, but they do say that fear is a "servile" principle, worthy only of slaves, not of sons and daughters. And for this reason, they also say that fear does not endure in the Kingdom of God, being transcended by hope, and ultimately by love.

weorwe said...


I agree about the motivational part.

Perhaps to clarify what I was getting at, I suppose I see "serve the Lord with fear" as different from "serve the Lord out of fear" -- the *motivation* to serve the Lord should indeed be joy and gratitude and love, but along with those things it's good to keep an appropriate sense of who God is, his majesty, power, holiness, etc; and perhaps fear can be a word to describe that sense.

Sampson said...

Dear Marcy,

Agreed, but the word I would choose is "wonder."