August 8, 2014

The priority of Awe

“The person you imagine will always be better than the one who is real.”

I’ve idolized people and then discovered my idols had serious flaws. It is the same for those ancient idols, those gods made of wood and stone; they do not measure up. The only God who never fails and even surpasses human imagination is far greater than we might suppose.

To get even a glimpse of that, He must reveal Himself — and He did. The Bible is an account of that revelation, a written peek into the nature of the true God, the one who appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and gave this man an understanding of who He is. Paul eagerly told others.

One day he went to the local place of discussion in Athens, the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22–31)

In these few short statements, he acknowledged their hunger for a god, their intuitive sense that the gods they had didn’t quite measure up, and that they should seek the true God. He said the true God is not imaginary like their idols, but is real and He wants to have a relationship with them. He revealed Himself and His plan through Jesus Christ. Now their part was to repent of their sin, drop the idols and worship the One who surpasses all else.

Moses knew. He had met with God and declared, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

Even the pagans knew, for He had “struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “’Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? . . .’” (1 Samuel 6:19–20)

Isaiah also knew. In the year that King Uzziah died, he “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

His response? He said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” And then one of the seraphim touched his mouth with a burning coal and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:1–7)

I’ve heard people refer to God as “the man upstairs” or their “buddy” or in other terms like that and wonder if their imagination has replaced revelation. God never reveals Himself in those terms. He bids us call Him Abba, not because of familiarity, but because once we know Him, we hesitate before His throne, knowing His majesty and power, but also our sin and unworthiness.

It seems impossible to talk meaningfully about God without first trembling at His glory. 

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