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)

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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)

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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.

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James 5:16 Being Open and Vulnerable (Holy Week Monday)

25 03 2013

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I need to make myself vulnerable.  I need to admit that I am weak and fully dependent upon God.  I need the prayers and intercession of others.  I need restoring for my soul.

 

“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].  The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” James 5:16 (AMP)

Traditionally Holy Week has been a time of prayer, contemplation and reflection.  As we reflect upon Jesus’ journey from the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to His Passion on Good Friday, we are called to examine ourselves as well.

The apostle Peter (who was anything but a wallflower) thought that he could hang tough with Jesus when the time came, but his reaction was very different when he was thrown into the time of trial.

“Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:33-35 (NRSV)

I don’t blame the apostle Peter for acting as any scared human being would.  Sometimes we speak with a crocodile mouth, only to discover we have a canary patoot.  I know I’m a coward.  I know that the only way I can muddle through trials is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and even then I struggle.  I could only pray to have as willing a heart as Peter, though my flesh is infinitely weaker.

If I were to enumerate my faults, sins, false moves, bad judgment, poor decisions, and so on, one by one, it would take years.  I do mean years.

I think that it’s important for us to see the apostles and other heavy hitter characters in the Bible for who they are- simple, human people who GOD used for big purposes.  Apart from meeting up with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the apostle Peter would simply have been an obscure fisherman like so many other fishermen of his day, and his name would be lost to history forever.

That’s why I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance with putting “saints” on a pedestal.  We should examine the lives of the people who are part of the Biblical narrative.  We should thank God for their record and their witness, but to see the players in the Biblical story as serene figures on stained glass windows misses the point.  They were flesh and blood human beings.  They made mistakes.

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I enjoy the aesthetic of stained glass windows, but we miss the point if this is the only way we see the “saints.”

The calling to the Christian life is a bold calling.  It is a calling that requires us to be open and vulnerable if we are to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us- not only through our own prayers but through the intercessory prayers of others.

The Christian community is important- it is the Church Militant here on earth.  Although the military reference is rather un-PC, we are called to fight, not with weapons but with healing actions and gentle words.  We are the ground forces here on earth who live out the Kingdom of God here and now.

I would rather see the apostle Peter as he was- a tough, barely educated, coarse, fisherman who worked with his hands.   I can relate to a guy like that.  He wasn’t some guy with pretty clothes and a halo on a window when he was living and acting down here on earth.  He did some things right.  He made some pretty drastic mistakes.  He was human.  What made him and his witness special was God working in and through him.

This Holy Week I pray for my friends and fellow Christians that we would look to Jesus for our courage- because I know I don’t have any apart from Him.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and make us vulnerable- not so anyone can take advantage of us- (been there and done that too many times)- but so Jesus can give us a new heart and new strength, that He would transform us and invite us into His story.

“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 36:36 (NRSV)