“Get out! Get out!” The words ripped through my throat as I stood paralyzed, thigh high deep in the ocean. I screamed over the roar of the waves and the din of vacationers to my, then, 10-year-old son, floating on his boogie board. Unbeknownst to him, a few yards deeper, a dark fin was steadily slicing through the water. My mouth and my arms were the only things that could move. As I frantically called and waved him in, I was astounded at how the panic had gripped my legs and stopped me from rushing to his rescue. I just kept thinking, “I’m his mother, I need to grab him and bring him in.”, which then activated the mom-guilt that sniped, “What kind of mother are you?” Never before had fear ever seized me like that! Never before had I ever felt so small and impotent. Fortunately, my son paddled in to safety and whatever it was that was behind him disappeared.
Admittedly, I am a first generation JAWS movie-goer, which might explain most of this. Typically though, I’m not afraid of much. I’m an adventurer and even though I freak out when it comes to sharks, I do love to adventure in the ocean. I’ve enjoyed snorkeling, scuba diving and even snuba-ing. In fact, the beach is where I often meet God. It’s where I’m whisked out of the harried and enveloped in the holy. The sights and sounds are stunning, and there is truly such splendor to behold. I love swimming in it, sitting by it, cruising on it, and eating things that come out of it.
As much as I love the ocean, you have already seen how much of a big Fraidy Cat I can be of it. While there are aspects of it that I love, the sheer immensity and the assortment of dangerous life within it can frighten me. (For the record, any fish that isn’t a pretty color fits into that category!) It is a magnificent entity that I will never fully understand. Even safe at home on my couch, I have been spellbound by fear as I watched a Discoveryprogram that revealed alien shaped creatures of the sea, that lit up like neon signs, in a place so deep that no light could penetrate. Fascinating, yes, but also terrifying, and it doesn’t stop there. The ocean, when dredged up by storms, can wipe out entire cities, mangle nature and remind of us our mortality real quick. Without a doubt, if you’re wise, the ocean is a force to be respected and held in awe.
So, as I recently sat at the beach, thinking about the beach, and the Maker of the beach, I remembered when I learned about the paradox of loving and fearing something at the same time. It was years ago, while studying the fear of God, that I grappled with this paradox as it relates to God. It brought up questions like:
- “How could I fear someone I love?”
- “Why would I fear a God of grace and mercy?”
- “Doesn’t God so love the world…?”
I just could not understand how I was supposed to fear Him when I loved Him so much. It was then that The Lord reminded me of the splendorous terror of the ocean, and its paralyzing grip on me.
I love and fear The Lord much the same way in which I love and fear the ocean. I understand my limitedness in light of His immenseness. I respect His power and know that it will take more than a Discovery program to know Him better. I learned that there is healthy fear that resembles gripping awe and reverence. A fear that requires me to acknowledge that I am NOT God and in the grand scheme of things I am small and impotent, and I’m okay with that!
Isaiah chapter 2 (ESV) vividly depicts God’s splendor and terror toward His people when they turned away from Him. It is easy for me to understand this splendorous terror when I think of His wrath, but the truth is that it also applies to His love. This, in all honesty, is harder for me to understand. These are hard words to couple together in the context of love. Splendor… terror… love…, nope, it just didn’t compute. Then God reminded me of the lyrics to the song, How He Loves Us, by David Crowder, that gives such dramatic images of a splendorous, terrifying love:
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.
These are powerful pictures that combine the splendor and the terror of God’s magnanimous love. Just imagine yourself bending like a young tree, stretched and pulled by the force of God’s love. Overwhelming for sure, but the truth! I love and fear The Lord and when I think about what that’s supposed to look like in my life, another ocean experience comes to mind.
Our family was on a whale watching excursion, in a medium sized boat, (note size of boat!) when a Humpback whale breached the water’s surface. It catapulted itself straight up out of the water, looking like some resurrected, barnacled, sunken ship. It was so close, and so big! I was videotaping it and was so gripped by fear, that I lost my legs. I can’t describe it any other way, they just went limp, right from under me, and I collapsed!
It’s this breathless picture of God’s equally devastating love and mercy, and His justice and wrath, that I long to maintain in my heart and head. I want to stand in an overwhelming love and have it mangle the lies I believe, have it bend me beneath the weight of His mercy, and sink in a grace that takes me to the wondrous depths of a God who I will never be able to fully understand. Splendor and terror, just like the ocean. That’s the God I want to behold daily. That’s the God I want to be undone by hourly. That’s the God I want to be gripped by minute by minute. A shocking love, a love that I am so overcome by that I lose my legs. A rip-tide that pulls me closer to my magnificent Maker in devout delight, fringed with awe, over both His splendor and terror, as wide and deep as the ocean itself.
So, as I sit on the beach with my feet buried in the sand, eyes gazing upon many wonders like rainbows, pelicans and sandcastles, I gratefully embrace the splendor and terror of the Lord. I open myself to His devastating love and fearsome immensity. I am His child; in awe of Him and adored by Him. So, this summer, if you find yourself sitting on the beach, you too can be breathless with wonder and comforted by His love. All you have to do is open yourself up to a splendorous terror you aren’t required to understand, but are invited to step into. Just like the ocean.
In what ways do you love and fear God that are either compatible with or contrary to the picture of the ocean? When understanding that healthy fear resembles gripping awe and reverence, what new insights about fearing God have you gained through the analogy of the ocean? How can these insights draw you closer to Jesus?
In what ways do your beliefs about loving and fearing God take shape in your prayers? Do you inadvertently separate the God-head (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) when you praise Him or when you’re afraid of Him? For example, do you pray to Jesus in love, but approach God with a different reverence?
Make a list of how you experience God’s love. Do any of them fall into the awe and reverence category? Do you carry a healthy fear in your heart for Him? Pray with awe and in thanksgiving for God’s splendorous love and then allow yourself to receive it.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
The Lord’s delight is in those who fear him,
those who put their hope in his unfailing love.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Fear-of-God is life itself,
a full life, and serene—no nasty surprises.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
As a certified Christian Life Coach, I can help you move from where you are to where God wants you to be. If you are interested in gaining more understanding about healthy fear, then let’s chat. I’d love to be your champion in what God is calling you to do!
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