Sunday, April 13, 2008

Worship is Scary: Fearing God

I just got back from Mass at St. Alexander's. It is a fairly modern Roman Catholic church, there are giant stained-glass windows and a huge Jesus with outstretched arms at the centre of the church. There are the stations of the cross (via crucis), pews, pianos, not too different from some Anglican churches aside from the obvious things I've mentioned. The Homily (sermon) was on Jesus the Good Shepherd, and all of the liturgy was about Jesus actually, every other word was Christ, and Mary and the Pope only got one name drop a piece the whole time. One thing was unusual though to my low church experience, we had to kneel for the Eucharist - which if you believe as I do, it's Jesus, it isn't that big of a deal to have to kneel - and we had things to recite that I didn't know - luckily I have memorized the Apostles Creed etc, but not everything.

I was thinking, as I knelt and dodged the people rushing forward and back to the pews in a synchronized pattern, man this is a bit strange and uncomfortable to me. Then I thought about what the Mass claims to be and a few other things. The Mass is supposed to be (it can be argued of course) an ancient service handed down by the apostles, and I figure if I felt comfortable through all of it, and it simply catered to my needs, how would that by Christ-centred and Historic Christianity. I started to think, maybe worshipping God IS supposed to be a bit scary.

Proverbs says 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom', but we are to love God perfectly and St. John writes that 'perfect love casts out fear' it's a bit of a paradox. Some people translate 'fear' as 'reverence', and that might be closer to it. I decided to go through the bible and see whether worship involved fear.

In Exodus 19 it describes when God is about to give the law to Moses. It says that God descended onto the mountain in a dense cloud, and that "all the people who were in the camp trembled". In Exodus 24:17 it says "the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel". I can't find it now - I wish I could, but I read a verse the other day where the people of God were to go before the Lord but they were too terrified and wanted Moses to do it, because they were afraid. These are God's people here, Israel, the body which now includes the church (for you covenant theologians out there). It is interesting to me that God's worship was on his terms, his way, not what was comfortable, little to nothing about the law was 'like everyone else' or 'comfortable'.

In Isaiah 6 when Isaiah has a vision of heaven, even the angels cover their faces from God, and the description of heaven is scary. I mean they burn his lips with a coal for his ordination, come on!

In the gospels Jesus message and God's truth got him killed. And he said lots of scary things about fearing God who can kill the body and the soul.

In Acts 4 the believers pray for boldness because they are persecuted so much. In Acts 5 God strikes Ananias and Sapphira DEAD for commiting a high handed sin against God (or a mortal sin for Catholics). God is scary, there's no getting around it.

Philippians 3:20 it says that 'our citizenship is in Heaven' St. Paul describes the church as a colony of Heaven - something the Philippians understood as the city of Philippi was a Roman colony of Greece. The people were different from the surrounding towns, they spoke Latin, they had Roman culture and Roman food etc. So when Paul describes what we are to be like - it is a description of something unrecognizable to the culture, completely 'un-seeker sensitive' in appearance, but seeker sensitive in love/charity. Likewise Peter's epistle calls us 'aliens in this world'.

Finally in Revelation 4, when St. John is witnessing the worship in Heaven, he describes a crazy Rainbow-colored, lightning-shooting, throne with people chanting a liturgy over and over for all eternity, falling on their faces before God, surrounded by strange scary sounding animals. This is God. This is worship, and it's not hard to imagine that being in the presence of Almighty God worshipping the Creator of the Universe, maybe should fill us with 'fear and trembling' - as we are told by Paul to work out our salvation in. (Phil.2.12)

I guess the thesis of all this is, I think Bill Hybels is wrong, God wants loving people, but still, people who fear him, people called out to be different and strange to those around them. Not churches that are afraid to put up crosses because they might 'offend' people... maybe that offends Jesus, I mean he seemed a little attached to the cross if I remember (forgive me for that off colour joke).


  1. Very profound observations, Andrew. I will send you my testimony now because it touches upon some of these things.

    Also, you should feel free to go up with the people to the Eucharist with your arms crossed against your chest...this is a sign to the minister that you are going up for a blessing (which will be given to you) and not to receive the Eucharist. If they look confused and try to give it to you anyway (this has happened to me), don't sweat it, just tell them that you are not Confirmed and cannot receive. They will get it quick.

    Blessings, Andrew.

  2. I would do that, except it's not the Priest who gives out the mass, it's like 5 other people who are just laity. I didn't see anyone do that either, so it would probably be weird.

    I also don't know why most of the people just receive the bread and not the wine.

  3. It's okay. I have done this with many different Eucharistic Ministers (non-priests) before. They generally have to go through training.

    Don't feel weird. Almost everyone is focusing on the Eucharist so they won't notice.

    There is no question that it is strange...I have felt that before. But that is Jesus there....that is God himself. Go to him. Adore him.