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.





Matthew 16:21-23 To Suffer and Die

19 03 2013

 

jesusgarden

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”  Matthew 16:21-23 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

How is your mind’s focal point reflected in your attitude toward suffering and death?

I don’t think anyone (other than  masochists) looks forward to suffering or dying.  Even when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that God would take the cup from Him.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.'” Matthew 26:38 (NRSV)

jesus-in-garden-of-gethsemane

If Jesus, the Son of God, was so distressed by the prospect of His own bodily suffering and death that He sweat blood, then how are we ordinary, weak, fallible people supposed to take it?

(As Jesus was anguished in the garden of Gethsemane)

“Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.  In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.'”  Luke 22:43-46 (NRSV)

This isn’t the reaction of a guy heading off to summer camp.  This is unspeakable terror.  Given what would happen to Jesus as He suffered and died, His reaction was more than understandable.  He knew exactly what He was walking into.

The fact is that those of us who follow Christ will also follow Him (in varying degrees and manners) into suffering and bodily death.  While one need not be a Christian to either suffer or die, for the Christian there is a purpose in suffering (even when we don’t understand it) and there is hope beyond death.

The key to that purpose is in what Jesus says in Matthew 26:38: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’

That’s the very same conundrum we face when we pray the Lord’s prayer: “thy will, (not my will) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I don’t know what God’s purpose is in either suffering or death.  I have to wonder why suffering is necessary at all.  Is it merely to build people’s endurance and character? There should be an easier way to do that.  If suffering is meant to build human endurance and character, why do animals suffer?  Is it part of the curse brought on as the punishment for original sin?

And what about physical death?  If God’s all about this Kingdom business, why not start now and forgo the preliminaries?

The only answer that even begins to make sense to me is God’s answer to Job. (see Job 40-41) In synopsis, God is saying to Job, who are you to question Me?  Where was Job when God created the universe?  Where were we when God brought animals to life?

Doubt is part of faith.  When we question God, He does answer us, just not always in the manner and timing that we expect, which is exactly the point.  God is God, we are not.  He is the One Who did the creating.  He is the One Who brings that mysterious process of life together in the secret depths as the psalmist tells us:  “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Psalm 139:15-16 (NRSV)  

He is the One Who keeps that slight electrical charge that causes one’s heart to beat going.

It is His prerogative as to when to turn off the switch, because He is the One Who turned it on to begin with.