For a lot of people on the East Coast, Halloween fears are happening in real time. I can't imagine the destruction and the turmoil that is experienced in these kinds of situations. I pray for renewal, for comfort, and for hope. In the midst of the terror of Hurricane Sandy, there is the anxiety of a presidential campaign. And yet in the midst of all of this....tomorrow night millions of people will step away from their realities, put on a weird, goofy, scary, or funny costume, hand out candy to tiny Superman's & Cinderella's, or walk their children down neighborhood sidewalks for M&M's and Starbursts. I will be among those people - hanging out with church friends, youth, and experiencing probably the chilliest Halloween I've seen in years.
This year, though, I keep thinking about what it means to fear God. And the thought is only more powerful in light of the destruction of the last couple days. What does it mean to fear God? What do we do when we find that language in scripture? My stomach twists itself in knots every time I think about all the preachers out there who blame storms like Sandy on the wrath of God. Too many people in this world talk about what is scary about God than what is awesomely loving about God. Not once will you will hear me preach about a God who sends disastrous storms and destruction upon people. So when I talk about fearing God I don't mean the kind of fear we get when we walk into a haunted house (or is it just me that's scared of those...?). And I'm not talking about the kind of fear that people have when they wake up one morning only to discover that their entire lives are crumbled in a mess of fallen bricks, broken walls, and dispersed neighbors. No, the fear I'm talking about is an awe-struck stirring from deep within. That feeling you get when you know that something far more awesome is at work out there. It's the kind of fear that drove Solomon to build the most amazing house of worship anyone had ever seen; the kind of fear that sent the shepherds to their knees. It's the fear that drives ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
We know when we lose sight of this fear, too. When we get so caught up in our own agendas and lose passion for our calling in this world. When it becomes all about us. When the excitement for living that once filled our bones is lost in the mundane chores of life. When doing what we know in our gut is the right thing to do because we know in our gut that it's not all about us....that our lives are connected to something bigger and more awesome than we can imagine....that's the kind of fear I'm talking about. And because I believe in God, then I put that Divine Being as the source of this mind-boggling greatness. So, without fear and awe for God, what am I doing? If I don't fear God then I'm not living out my calling to its fullest. If I don't fear God, then I'm not thinking through decisions care-fully or empowering ministries that center around hope and justice.
I think I'm learning that fearing God has a whole lot more to do with loving God and a whole lot less to do with being afraid of God. When we fear God, we not only realize our frailty, but we realize God's strength. It is comforting and a little bit scary at the same time. But it doesn't mean that we should be afraid. God is not a monster in a movie and God is not some ax murderer. God is the source of the hope that comes in the midst of chaos. God is the comfort of a friend on a gloomy October day. God is the understanding in a situation that makes no stinkin' sense. God is at the center of all that is good, and true, and just.
So the day after tomorrow...when candy wrappers cover our floors and face paint is all washed off; when the costumes are put away; when people along the East Coast begin to pick up the shattered pieces of life; when our country is one more day closer to the election; I pray that fear consumes us. Not fear that divides and terrifies. But the kind of fear that brings us closer to a love so strong that we can't help but fall to our knees....or hug a friend....or send some money to relief efforts...or say a prayer....or do something extraordinary with this ordinary thing we call life.