Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Meditations Upon Proverbs 1:7

Vividly I remember my parents, in the midst of some vacation journey, taking me as a child to see a large dam in the Ozarks (I think it was Beaver Lake Dam in Northwest Arkansas). The highway went across the top of the dam, along with a few places to park, get out, and take pictures. Of course, Dad did exactly that.

I was too short to look over the side, and I was thankful to be too short. Dad wanted to pick me up and let me look over the edge, down the sheer concrete wall to the river in the chasm below. No thank you! I yelped, bucked, and cried until he abandoned his plan and let me go. (Who would've thought that boy would earn a pilot's license?!)

It is one of my earliest recollections of fear. Mind you, my fear amounted to no judgment whatsoever regarding the moral nature of the location. I did not conclude that the White River harbored some sinister desire to slay me. Furthermore, there is no human being on the planet whom I trusted more than I trusted my Dad. I had never heard a story about boys inadvertently plummeting from dams to their demise, nor had I ever known anyone who had died after a fall from a great height. In fact, I had not yet encountered death at all, as it pertained to anyone who mattered much in my life. No statistical or experiential reason existed to justify my fear.

Yet I was afraid.

I had seen pictures of great dams before, and had watched television footage of dams in all of their immensity. None of those things made me fearful in the least. Not in the least. But here I was in the actual presence of something so much bigger than I was. Here, right beneath my feet, was power many orders of magnitude beyond such as I possessed. To be in its presence—to be so small—is to imagine dreadful possibilities and to fear.

A lifetime later, in 2002, Tracy and I celebrated 10 years of marriage by journeying to Colorado. Tourists that we were, we went to the ultimate tourist trap: Royal Gorge. Standing on that suspension bridge high above the Arkansas River, I felt fear once again, albeit with the marginal increase of courage that can come with age. The strangest thing happened, and perhaps it reveals some psychological defect in me, finally enabling those of you who are convinced that I am insane to identify precisely in what way. As I stood on the bridge and peered off into the abyss, I feared that I would jump.

I was not despondent at all—I was on a great vacation! As far as I know, I've never had a suicidal moment in my life. The thought that I would jump off of the Royal Gorge Bridge was thoroughly nonsensical. I feared it nonetheless and stepped back from the precipice.

Politicians and preachers alike speak about God. Musicians both secular and sacred make frequent reference to God. Ever and always, you can identify those for whom God is merely a concept that they have read in a book or casually absorbed from a largely theistic culture. Of their God, they are never the slightest bit afraid.

Every person who has ever truly been in His presence has trembled, not because He is evil or untrustworthy but because I am both evil and untrustworthy. Even if I live every moment of my life convinced or trying to convince others that I am not evil and untrustworthy, the moment that I am in His presence I know that I am precisely those things, and worse. Did anybody, no matter how holy, ever encounter God, or even His angels, without cowering? Aren't the first words from God in these encounters ever a statement to address the terror in God's subjects?

So I fear this God whom I know to be merciful. Entirely secure in my salvation, I am nonetheless terrified in His presence. Delighting in His presence, I fear Him still. He is not a tame lion. And yet, even while fearing that in His presence I will surely die, it is only there that I am ever surely alive.


Jerry Corbaley said...

Hi Bart,

Thanks for the reminder, brother!

The fear of God is so important to a right understanding of who He is. Proverbs 2:1-5 points the way.

And 1 John 4:18 gives us the perfect balance in which we find certain hope.

As His Spirit keeps me hovering between fear and perfect love I find myself in the infinite and eternal adventure. Eternal life is blessing far, far beyond the imagination of man.

kws said...

Great word, Bart, and a gentle rebuke for those who speak of our Creator in an overly familiar way. I have had the same experience of fearing that I would jump many times (most recently at the Grand Canyon). I have talked with others who have had the same experience. I'm sure there is a word for this sensation. Blessings.

Baptist Theologue (Mike Morris) said...

I have sensed for some time that there is less fear of God in our American culture. The media, I suppose, has affected this cultural attitude. The average American household has the TV on 8 hours per day. I wonder if the greater casualness in corporate worship style and dress these days is somehow related to this apparent lack of fear. Of course, hardly anyone wears a tie anywhere these days, so casual dress in corporate worship may simply reflect a general antipathy toward formal clothing, except when prom season is upon us.

Scotty Karber said...

Good word Bart. It is interesting that there are more of us who experience that strange sensation of fear of jumping from heights like that. Those who don't just don't get it and I'm not sure we who do get it either, but it's real.

B Nettles said...

Excellent illustrations of fear, and I think you nailed it (and FDR didn't): We fear the possibility of self-destruction. We realize that that we have the capability/tendency to spurn caution and behave foolishly. Is that because we are adventure seekers, bent on expressing individuality at any cost? Some would say such an urging is the result of the Fall.

That fear results in unbelievers denying that such a thing as sin exists so that they can't be destroyed by the wrath of God. It's like saying "If there's nothing at the bottom to harm me, it's okay to jump." We believers tremble, knowing that were it not for God holding our feet to the bridge, (or giving us a parachute, birdman suit, etc.) our inclination would be toward foolish destruction (in the name of freedom?).

I won't carry the analogy too far, but I did ponder the situation of people in the WTC towers on 9/11. Faced with the prospect of destruction by fire or asphyxiation, some jumped. Were they hopeful the fall wouldn't kill them, did they wish to remove the horror of destruction by having a final adrenaline rush, or had they always wanted to jump and realized this was their last chance and it wouldn't matter? There may be other reasons, but in light of your post, these make sense.

ann clary said...

Awesome post!

selahV said...

Bart...you need to write more of these. Thanks for taking me to the edge and lifting me up to meet my Creator. This is beautiful. selahV

r. grannemann said...

Concerning your impulse to jump off Royal Gorge Bridge: No, it was not because of some psychological defect within you. Most EVERYONE has similar thoughts and fears -- I've asked people. Driving down the road we might have the thought of driving off the cliff to one side, or into another car, or into a bridge. Such feeling arise NOT because we're insane, but because we recognize the power in our own hands, what we could do in a matter of five seconds that would forever change the world. To the detriment of predestinationists, such feelings confirm what we understand about our freedom and our power to use it for good or evil.

Tom Kelley said...

r. grannemann said...
To the detriment of predestinationists, such feelings confirm what we understand about our freedom and our power to use it for good or evil.

To the detriment of free-will-ists, reality, in contrast our feelings, confirms what we understand about the sovereignty of God and His power to use good and evil to accomplish His ends.


selahV said...

I feel like a bunch of democrats are about to jump off that dam and take all of America with them. selahV