“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 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 I especially love to adventure in the ocean; snorkeling, scuba diving and even snuba-ing. In fact, the beach is where I often meet God. Being whisked out of the harried and enveloped in the holy… that’s what the beach does to me. 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 am of its sheer immensity and of the life within that threatens my existence. (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 Discovery program that revealed alien like 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 remember when I learned about this paradoxical concept of loving and fearing something at the same time. It was years ago, while studying the fear of God, that I grappled with questions like; “How could I fear someone I love?”, “Why would I fear a God of grace and mercy?”, “For God so loved 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, impotent, and I’m okay with that!
Isaiah chapter 2 (vs. 10, 19, 21) depicts God’s splendor and terror in relation to those who had turned away from him. It is easy for me to reconcile this paradox with his wrath, but the truth is that it also applies to his love. This, in all honesty, was harder for me to understand. These were 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. These words give us 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. Overwhelming for sure, but the truth! I love and fear The Lord and when I think about what that’s supposed to look like, 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 huge 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 loss 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 & mercy and his justice & wrath that I long to maintain in my heart and head. I want to stand in an overwhelming love, 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. You too can be breathless with wonder and comforted by his love. Just be willing to open yourself up to a splendorous terror that you aren’t required to understand, but are invited to step into. Just like the ocean.
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 looking to gain clarity and get ‘unstuck’ then let’s chat. I’d love to be your champion in what God is calling you to do!