We Should Fear and Love God

Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Article for June, 2013

These are the words Martin Luther uses to begin his explanation to each one of the ten commandments. In his question & answer style, it looks like this:

What is the First Commandment? Answer: You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Our catechism students always trip up on that one. How is it possible to both fear God and love God at the same time? Richard Rohr quotes Rudolph Otto, and offers an interesting perspective on that:

...when someone has an experience of the Holy, they find themselves caught up in two opposite things at the same time: the mysterium tremendum and the mysterium fascinosum, or the scary mystery and the alluring mystery. We both draw back and are pulled forward into a very new space. (adapted from “Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate . . . Seeing God in All Things”)

Rohr goes on to explain that the mysterium tremendum is a way of describing the overwhelming impact of experiencing God’s presence. It is so powerful, so “beyond,” that our instinct is to pull away. It feels like too much for us. When that is the only experience we have of God, we can become terrified of God’s power in the face of our own sinfulness.

Fortunately, that isn’t our only experience of God. We also know God as kind and gracious and inviting and wonderful. The mysterium fascinosum of God is a way of describing the fascinating and alluring aspects of God’s nature. We find ourselves pulled into God’s love, and surrounded by God’s grace. Of course, when that is the only experience we have of God, our relationship with God becomes sentimental, and our faithfulness becomes trite.

To know God is a paradoxical experience. To know God is to experience both transcendent power and immanent love. Rudolph Otto writes that if you don’t have both, you don’t have the full experience of God.

We live in an era when most descriptions of God depict a comforting companion who walks beside us (perhaps a step or two behind us), and offers us love and support and encouragement. Have we so neutered our depiction of God that it makes little or no difference in our lives? Would we do well to recover a sense of the mysterium tremendum, so that God’s presence among us might have more power and influence for us?

Mysterium fascinosum and myserium tremendum; transcendence and immanence; how is the mystery of God alive in your life?

God’s peace to you all,

Pastor Dave