Proverbs 28:14 The (Reverent) Fear of God, and a Heart of Flesh

8 04 2013

Banner red hearts-heart of worship

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

Fear is generally a negative concept for me, so as I was drawn to the second part of this verse (“he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity”) I wondered why (in the NRSV translation, which is the one that my church generally uses,) the first part of this verse reads, “Happy is the one who is never without fear.”

Say what?  How many times are we told in Scripture, “Be not afraid?”  The other thought that crossed my mind, was that if fear makes you happy, then I should be the most elated woman on earth.

This is one reason why I do eventually want to learn Hebrew and Greek, so that I can read the words from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  But even if I were to start my education in the Hebrew language today, it’s going to take awhile before I learn what the letters and phrases really mean (denotations as well as connotations.)  So when one Biblical translation doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t clear, I like to try some different ones.  The Amplified Bible that I quoted above can be a bit cumbersome to read, and in that translation one can lose the poetic literary feel of Scripture, but it does draw out and clarify seemingly contradictory verses such as this one.  It is generally a good idea to look at a few different translations of confusing or seemingly contradictory verses:

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. Proverbs 28:14 (NIV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life; a hardhearted person lives a hard life. Proverbs 28:14 (MSG)

fear-of-god-201-blog

The fear of God is not the same thing as the pervasive anxiety that can and (sometimes does) paralyze me and keep me trapped in terror. I like the word “reverence,” because it does insist respect for God, but it doesn’t quite convey the same idea as when Isaiah fell flat on his face, exclaiming, “I am a man of unclean lips, because I have seen the Lord, God of Hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. Psalm 111:10 (NRSV) 

Here where the psalmist is speaking of the fear of the Lord, I can assume he’s talking about that reverent fear, the condition of putting God first before one’s own understanding and one’s own wants.

It is a good thing to be tenderhearted, but I don’t think that just being tenderhearted is the entire picture here either.  There are plenty of atheists, agnostics and humanists out there who are tenderhearted and will do anything to save the trees or save the bees, or “stop global warming,” or “end capital punishment,” and so on, but who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  The Apostle Paul saw the humanists coming, and he gives us a warning about serving the creation versus the Creator:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”  Romans 1:18-25 (NRSV)

hippiesmjsmoker

The problem with just being tenderhearted, is that it matters what you’re tenderhearted toward.  It is good and right to be respectful of God’s creation and to be a good caretaker of the earth and of the blessings He has given us. God does reveal Himself to us in His creation.  That’s sort of His point toward the glory and beauty and majesty in nature and in all the wonders that can be observed in the cosmos.  He put that stuff there to point to Him!  But when the love of nature or the love of stuff, or the sovereignty of science become your god(s), and hedonism is your creed, there’s a problem.

Then there’s the person like me, who has (I hope) a healthy, reverent fear of God, but little to no natural tenderhearted tendencies.  (Empathy is not generally a strong trait in those on the autistic spectrum.) I’m wary.  I’m cynical.  I’ve been deeply wounded emotionally, and trusting people is next to impossible for me.  How am I supposed to have a tender heart- because I wasn’t really wired that way?

The sin of the Garden – the sin of the Fall- was the sin of wanting to be as God.  To see good and evil.  To hold the power of life and death.  To think that humanity has all of its own answers and fixes and solutions for everything.

The surrender in another Garden was the sacrifice of the Son of God- Who put aside the authority of His deity and took on human flesh, to die an ignominous death- to save both the unbelieving (but tenderhearted) hedonist, and the believing (though wounded and hard-hearted) runt kid nobody wanted.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

Lord, let it be so.  Give me a tender heart toward You and Your will, and eyes to see people as You do.





Colossians 3:2-4 Heaven on Earth, Colossians 3:11 One in Christ

21 03 2013

jesus-ascension01

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Colossians 3:2-4 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

On what is your mind usually focused- on the heavenly or the earthly?  How can you focus more on “what is above?”

Perhaps this is not quite the right question, at least not for me.  I would be perfectly happy to lock myself away- just “me-‘n-Jesus”- and meditate on the glory of heaven, and anticipate the day when I don’t have to deal with all the crud and misery that this life brings. It is a huge temptation for me to set my sights on the limitless and eternal joy awaiting me in heaven and to shut my mind and heart off to the injustice and suffering that’s going on in this world.  I can lock myself up in that figurative ivory tower very easily, until I look at the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven,  hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

Then I go on to the book of James (James was likely Jesus’ half-brother, and had much to say about living out one’s faith right here in this lifetime) and he has this to say:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters,  if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?  Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?   You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.  

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” James 2:14-26 (NRSV)

I will say that it is good to find solitude and meditate on the things of God, but one must find a balance between contemplation, solitude and prayer and living the Christian life in this corrupted, complicated and discouraging world.  Faith necessarily leads to action (as Martin Luther said) just as light necessarily generates heat.  Good works are inevitable byproducts of faith.

Unlike a majority of people, I am at home with solitude, contemplation and study.  It is a bigger challenge for me to get out and be the answer to living out God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven;” to keep one foot in the Kingdom that is to come, and the other in that we are called to help build here on earth.

Lord, help me live out Your Kingdom here on earth.

jesus_loves_the_little_children_song_1

“In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” Colossians 3:11 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What cultural differences are you allowing to separate you from others who are part of Christ’s body?

All human beings alive today are hypocrites, and I am definitely included in that classification.  The idea of people of all races and cultures and ideologies living together peacefully sounds so wonderful in theory, but the devil is literally in the details.

I grew up in a very rural, very white community.  Virtually everyone was some kind of Christian, be it Catholic or Protestant.  Most of the people I grew up around were just like my family- their families were of mostly northern European descent and had been in this country for generations.  I was in third grade (7 years old) before I actually encountered a real live person who was born in a foreign country- a girl from Korea who had been orphaned and then adopted by a local pastor and his wife.  She spoke absolutely no English.  On her first day in school, she would not drink the cafeteria milk (prepackaged, in a half-pint carton, from a local dairy) until someone else drank out of the carton first.  She told me later, as she eventually learned to speak English very well, that she wanted to be sure no one was trying to give her poison.

I remember feeling very sorry for this girl, at first, but my pity didn’t last very long.  I was very impressed with how quickly she learned English, (it was really important for her to learn, because no one within probably a hundred miles or more could speak Korean) and with how other people helped make her feel comfortable in her new home.  I was one of the kids who volunteered to help her learn English, using picture flash cards for names of common objects and helping her with correct pronunciation.  Within a year her English skills- both spoken and written- were almost as good as the rest of the kids’, and she no longer needed extra lessons and tutoring.

Growing up, I never had too much of an opinion of other people based on their race or customs, because almost everyone that I was exposed to growing up was white and of northern European descent just like me.  The few “different” people I met up with- we had a few black and a few Asian families in town- seemed to be just fine too.

I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock I got when I moved to Columbus in the mid-1990s.  I was now a part of a much more racially and culturally diverse community.  Not (almost) everyone was white. Not everyone was Christian.  Not everyone was straight!

I have to admit that sometimes when I see young black men milling about in a parking lot with their pants half way down their patoot, I hit the remote lock switch one more time just to make sure the car is locked.  Of course, not all young black men are thugs on drugs who are just waiting for the opportunity to pilfer through my car.  Most probably are not. Worse yet, when I do this I am acting out of racism, which goes against what the apostle Paul teaches.  Black or white shouldn’t make any difference, but in spite of myself, sometimes it does.

After the tragedy of 9-11 I admit I have been very wary of those of the Muslim faith.  When I see the women wearing the long dresses and veils, I know they are Muslim, and that more and more immigrants from other countries who are Muslim are making their way to central Ohio.  Being around Muslim people makes me uncomfortable, and I have a very real fear of those who subscribe to radical Islam, even though I am sure that it is not every Muslim’s aim to destroy this country and kill every Christian.  Even so, I admit, I am afraid.  I believe it is a justifiable fear, because there is much in the Quran and other Islamic teachings that advocates the persecution and murder of Christians.  I pray that Muslims will see beyond the deception of Islam and hear the Good News of Jesus, but I am still afraid of them.

I never encountered openly gay people until I moved to Columbus in 1994.  Since I come from a very conservative background, where homosexuality is regarded as an unspeakable sin, at first it was very difficult for me to be around people who are gay.  Then I remembered that God is my judge, and everyone else’s.  We are accountable to Him for who we love, what we do, and for what we accomplish with our lives.  Even though I struggle with how a Christian should regard the condition of homosexuality, the answer for me is to love God and love people- straight and gay.

I admit that I am still working on my attitudes toward people who aren’t like me.  It’s easier when they are also Christians, but what about loving the unlovable? What about loving people who have been taught that it’s OK to kill me?

I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the right attitude and help me to see people the way God sees them.