Friday, February 24, 2012

Fear and Mercy

(Note- I'm using Lent and Easter Wisdom from Thomas Merton as my Lenten devotional this year. I'll be blogging the journaling prompts most days.)

Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await his mercy, or approach him trustfully in prayer. Our peace and our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace. ~Seasons of Celebration, p. 117

How are fear and mercy factors in my relationship with God?

The concept of "fearing God"  has never really sat well with me. My parents grew up in churches were they were taught about an angry, scary God of whom one should be afraid. They made sure to raise my brother and I to know that God is first and foremost characterized by love.

I've always equated the "fear of God" more with respect and honor than with being afraid. 1 John 4 says that "perfect love drives out fear", and God's love is perfect.

In college I was involved in an evangelical campus ministry, and one of their big emphases was that we were totally unworthy of God's love, and to be very, very afraid of going to Hell. That coincided with my untreated depression getting worse, and it took a long time for me to really believe that I am worthy of God's love, because God created me in love. I tend to have some strongly negative reactions when I hear that theology being espoused, because it makes me recall a time in my own life when I let some religious group convince me that I really should be afraid of God.

The concept of God's mercy implies that we do need mercy, and many of us on the liberal end of the theological spectrum tend not to emphasize that enough, probably because we fear sounding like the "turn or burn" crowd. God's mercy doesn't just barely cover God's disappointment with our shortcomings, as some theologies imply. God's love and mercy so eclipse God's disappointment that it's barely noticeable anymore.

I heard someone point out one time how horrible it would be to have a spouse or parent who constantly reminded us that we were horrible and that we're lucky they tolerate us. That would be considered emotional abuse. God is not emotionally abusive. God is a loving parent who, yes, gets disappointed with us, but that's because God knows we can do better.

During Lent, as I reflect on all my shortcomings, I'm trying very hard to do so in light of God's infinite mercy, and to be joyful that these shortcomings don't have to define me.

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