Parents try to balance unconditional love and corrective discipline. Christians are told to “speak the truth in love” which can be a balancing act also. However, a greater challenge is to balance the nearness of God with the fact that He is far beyond us and transcendent, remembering that as He walks by our side, He is also the Almighty sovereign God of all creation.
I’ve forgotten both at times. When God seems silent, I forget He is never far away. When He speaks peace to me, I can forget that He is also Lord of all. When He shows mercy, I can forget that He will not tolerate my sin. The idolatry in both extremes is trying to exchange the glory of God into something that pleases me, meets my needs, answers to my whims.
The writer of Hebrews reminds me that God showed His power to the Israelites by shaking the earth. Not everyone survived His judgments. This is the same God that I worship through Jesus Christ, the same God that I love as my friend yet so easily forget His power and authority . . .
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25–29)
As a child of God and blessed by His grace, I need reminding that this God is also the judge of all the earth. So did His OT saints need those reminders as they drifted into taking God’s grace for granted. When that happened, He used prophets to warn His people that they had abandoned Him . . .
Thus says the Lord: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? . . . Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:5, 11–13)
The Bible tells me to both love God and fear Him. Most agree that this fear means reverence and awe, yet there are verses where the words used for fear means dread and terror. In this verse, the “reverence” is for God’s judgments, but the “fear” of God points to dread . . .
My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments. (Psalm 119:120)
Whenever my mind goes too far in thinking of my relationship with God as “chummy” or as “pals” then my concept of Him is in danger of idolatry. But if I become so afraid of God that He never seems to be my Redeemer and Friend, I’m in that same danger. Keeping both in balance is important.
This balance also makes a difference in how I live. If I think God will lovingly overlook my sin, then I don’t take sin very seriously. If I think God is always breathing down my neck about my sin, then I don’t take mercy and forgiveness very seriously. I know that God hates sin, but also that He loves me. It is both His love and hate that encourages me to put sin and idolatry where they belong.