Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Whole of Man

I love a good mystery!  When I was growing up, I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason.  In fact, I still love an occasional Perry Mason rerun.  But there is a mystery in the universe that makes a Sherlock Holmes adventure look like a child's puzzle.  That mystery is the Lord Himself.  He is inscrutable (Isaiah 40.28).  He is incomprehensible (Job 37.5).  He is unknowable (Job 36.23).  He is awesome, majestic, full of wonder (Exodus 15.11).  He is limitless (Job 11.7).  His ways are beyond us (Isaiah 55.9).  Great minds, past and present, have tried to penetrate the mystery of God, to fathom its depths, to comprehend His ways.  Scientists have tried to explain His ways while philosophers have treated Him as a quaint idea.  But after centuries of inquiry, God is still a mystery.

            God is far too complex for the scientist and far too deep to satisfy the philosopher.  By now, you have probably sensed some of my own struggle with this mystery.  Larry Crabb said men inevitably have difficulty handling mystery; and he's right.  So please bear with me as I consider once more the question how then should we respond to Him?  The wisest man in history suggests the only appropriate response a finite person can give to the infinite God:  "Here is the  conclusion, when all has been heard: fear God and observe His commandments, because this is the whole of man" (Ecclesiastes 12.13, my translation).  We have already seen a little of what the fear of the Lord means, but what does it actually involve?  How does it become a reality in our experience?

            In his conclusion, Solomon focuses not on fear and obedience, important as they may be, but rather on God and His commandments.  The Hebrew is more emphatic, reading like this: "God fear and His commandments keep!"  When we focus our attention on the Lord Himself, our response follows spontaneously.  And that response is essentially one of fear and trembling.  Albert Martin suggests several ingredients that comprise the fear of the Lord.  Let's look at two of them.  One is a pervasive sense of the presence of God.  If you are conscious of the presence of God manifest around you and in your life, you will naturally respond with fear.  Let me suggest (if we are not too proud to receive it) a modern example from Kenneth Grahame's delightful tale, The Wind in the Willows.  Rat and Mole are approaching the mythical creature Pan on some island in their world, speaking to each other about him as if he were God.  "'Rat,' he found the breath to whisper, shaking, 'Are you afraid?'  'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.  'Afraid?  Of Him?  O never, never, never.  And yet---and yet---O Mole, I am afraid.'"

            When we enter the presence of God, our response is much the same.  We are not afraid and yet we are.  A.W. Tozer calls this one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith, to fear and not to be afraid.  We enter His presence in fear and we walk with Him until our fear matures into fellowship.  But ultimately the fear lingers when we're in His presence.  Remember Jacob?  When he awoke from his dream, he said essentially, "The Lord is here and I did not know it.  I'm scared." (cp. Genesis 28.16-17).  The presence of God alone generates godly fear of the Lord.

            Martin offers a second ingredient, a correct concept of the character of God.  Even a brief glimpse of Who God is should send us trembling to our knees.  When King Uzziah died, Isaiah experienced the presence of God and a glimpse of His character at the same time.  His response to both was to fear the Lord.  He saw the Lord sitting on a throne, surrounded by angelic beings.  The temple was filled with smoke, the doors trembled on their hinges, the seraphim covered their faces with their wings and cried to one another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6.3).  The entire scene radiates the holiness of God.  As a result, Isaiah feared for his life.  He fell on his face and cried out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 6.5).

You see, God is a God of holiness, a God of majesty.  A God of transcendent glory.  Our God is an awesome God.  Perhaps the greatest title of honor we can place upon the Lord, however, is that of holiness.  God is a God of love, no doubt.  The Bible says so.  He is a God of light and of wrath.  But holiness reflects the majesty of His very name.  Holiness reflects the venerableness of His name.  The beauty of the Lord glows through His holiness.  Over three hundred years ago, Stephen Charnock said of all the attributes applied to the name of God, holy is the most frequently used.  The holiness of God, he adds,  is "the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them...."  According to Charnock, God's purity is the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead.  The majesty of God stands for His purity, His truth, His holiness, His justice, and every expression that indicates the moral supremacy of the Lord.  And it is the moral purity, the holiness of God that moves us to fear Him.  And Solomon said this is the very essence of our being ---to fear the Lord; it is "the whole of man."

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