“Fear and Trembling” at the coming of the Lord


By Joe LaGuardia

What is it like for you to experience God when God draws near?

Some say that experiencing God is like being a first-time father in a labor and delivery room as his wife is pushing and breathing and crying and hoping.  New life is about to erupt on the scene, and its the most beautiful thing in the world, but also the most terrifying.

Others may say that meeting God is like visiting the tiger at the zoo.  One is enthralled with the beauty and hypnotized by its deep-set eyes.  There is awe at the beast’s power and majesty, but no one wants to jump in the enclosure and give it a hug.

Yet others might compare their experience of God by referring to a movie or parable.  The “Life of Pi” comes to mind–a story about a boy and his animals stranded on a life-boat in the middle of the ocean.  There, tragedies and storms, as well as serenity and enlightenment all provide opportunities to meet the Divine.

Psalm 114, which recalls God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt and God’s decision to call Israel home, communicates one author’s profound experience of God.  It is a short psalm, but its poetry is rich in its use of creation metaphors to describe God’s homecoming for them…and for us.

“Judah became God’s sanctuary,” the psalter recalls, “And the sea looked and fled…the mountains skipped like rams” (v. 2, 3, 4).

God’s power and majesty was on full display when God saved Israel from Egypt.  Israel: A small, tribal people enslaved by one of the most powerful and technologically advanced empires in the ancient world.  God: Creator of all life, one who chose Israel to call home.

It was a heart-shattering,  empire shattering, creation disturbing notion: God and Israel, together.

What else is there to do but ask questions?

“Why do you flee, O sea?  Why do you skip, O mountains?”

And pose a challenge: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord” (v. 7).

Such questions accompanied by a command make it seem that the psalm gives mixed messages.  How is it that, in one breath, the psalter wonders why creation flees in fear from the coming of the Lord; but, in the next breath, commands the earth to, well, fear God in trembling repose?

Perhaps the secret lies in the word, “tremble.”

First, it is hard to tremble in God’s presence when you’re too busy running from Him.

Second, if you read the Bible cover to cover, you would note that those who tremble are the very same people who come into contact with God and are changed forever.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel trembled when God gave them the Law.  Moses trembled when he met God face to face.

In the New Testament, people and demons alike trembled in Jesus’ presence.  The woman who was hemorrhaging for years, upon being healed by Jesus, bowed down in worship to him, “trembling” (Mark 5:33).

Mary and her friends “trembled” after meeting the Risen Christ at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8).

Crowds trembled at God’s power when the disciples performed miracles; Peter mentioned that unrepentant sinners are unrepentant precisely because they “tremble not” (2 Peter 2:10); and Paul encouraged the Philippians to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.”

If you experience God with mixed feelings of awe and majesty, as well as fear and trembling, then you are in good company.

And who can blame you?  God is so amazing, so much larger than we can imagine; how else can we respond?

Psalm 114 gives us two choices: We can either run away and keep God at arm’s length, or we can come into God’s presence and be utterly transformed into something new.  It is awesome, but it can also be frightening.

Sometimes God comes to us in a still, small voice.  Other times, God comes to us and scares the dickens–and the demons–out of us as we tremble in His presence.  But let Psalm 114 encourage you today: flee not; God is present.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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