Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dreadfully awful or awfully dreadful?

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Are you afraid of God?

There are two sorts of fear that human beings can have; one is called awe, and the other is called dread.
Awe is that sensation we have when we are confronted with something so immense that we cannot fully comprehend it. Have you ever tried looking deep into the sky and felt your legs tremble beneath you? Or have you walked into a magnificent cathedral and caught the shivers? That is awe. It is a strange feeling, not wholly unpleasant, but perhaps giving us a sense that we really are smaller than we think we are.
And then there’s dread – the feeling that something unpleasant is going to happen to you.

We do tend to confuse the two types of fear. We see this confusion in the fact that “awful” now means “dreadful” instead of its original meaning of a situation that fills you with awe. We now say awe-inspiring rather than awe-ful, don’t we?

Are you afraid of God? Are you in awe of God, or in dread?


It would appear from what St Paul says, that we should dread God. He seems to be reminding us of the God that many people today find very difficult to worship, for this is a God who punishes the wicked.
Those who fornicate fall in their thousands. Those who tempt God are destroyed of serpents. Those who murmur – who conspire against Moses – are destroyed of the destroyer.

Then St Paul warns us: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”


The argument often goes out that people like the God of the New Testament more than the God of the Old Testament as if the two were in some way separate. The “Old Testament God” is supposedly vengeful, and punishes people with death for simple transgressions. The “New Testament God” is loving and wants people to return to Him which is why He sends His Son to tell us how much we are loved. People have difficulty trying to bring the two ideas together.

Admittedly, there are some very hard parts of the Bible, places where it seems that God is not behaving like a loving Father. If He loves the Canaanites, then why does He order their destruction?


As human beings, we have inherited God’s sense of justice – it’s part of us. The fact that everyone believes that there is such thing as Good and Evil in the first place must surely point to God standing alongside His Creation and instilling this sense of Good and Evil into His Creation.

However, we know also that we are fallen human beings. We inherit the moral weaknesses that our ancestors have and these weaknesses lead us into sin. Our sense of justice is also broken by these weaknesses that we inherit.

We also have to remember that we live in a Universe of cause and effect. Everything happens for a reason. Actions have consequences and, for as long as we are free to choose, our actions will have consequences we did not intend. When we choose to sin against God, there are consequences. There have to be. If we do something wrong, we must take the consequences of our wrong-doing. If God warns us not to commit fornication and we do, then we must accept the outcome will not be pleasant. We must also remember that God did not intend those unpleasant consequences: He intended us not to sin in the first place. The consequences are not God’s fault, they are ours alone.

The Psalmist says that with God, we can expect God’s justice and His mercy at the same time, even for the greatest Biblical figures.

“Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon his Name : these called upon the Lord, and he heard them. He spake unto them out of the cloudy pillar : for they kept his testimonies, and the law that he gave them. Thou heardest them, O Lord our God : thou forgavest them, O God, and punishedst their own inventions.”

We can easily be forgiven by God, but we must take the punishment for our sins. The fact that we are forgiven means that our sins will not be allowed to separate us from the presence of God. Sins that are forgiven die with our bodies and will not rise with us at our resurrection. Remember that God’s mercy is precisely His desire to be in fellowship with sinners. Remember also that sin separates from God until it is forgiven.


The main problem with those who don’t know God is that they focus on the punishment itself rather than see the injustice. They believe God’s punishment to be unwarranted or disproportionate. What they cannot see is the deep abiding consequences of sin and how that affects people more harmfully than they know. Nor can they see how God has to deal with the situation with fairness and mercy. Nor can they understand the Love of God which burns for justice for all who are victims of Evil.

We, too, do not know the scale of our sins and the ripples that they send out into the world, or how they will affect generations to come. That’s frightening. It’s even more frightening if we are left in those sins forever without any recourse from them.

Yet, God gives us that way out. It was a way out prophesied in the Old Testament and seen first-hand by the eyewitnesses of the New Testament. The way out is Our Lord Jesus Christ.


It’s not God whom we should dread. It is sin and its consequences. God is faithful: we are not.

What about the Cross of Christ? Is that to be an object of dread, or awe?

Are you afraid of God?

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