Reverential and Fearful Awe
I used to really enjoy collecting sports cards. I even have a box of them up in the loft of our house. If I remember correctly, the little store I would frequent was named Double Decker. If I had some money, I would go there on occasion and buy a pack of cards. Or, sometimes, I might buy a single card if it was a player I particularly liked. Then there was the trading. A good friend of mine would assemble his cards, and after worship services on Sunday nights, we would sit in a locked vehicle in the dark parking lot and try to strike a deal with one another. “Two Michael Jordans for one Nolan Ryan?” The whole process felt quite risky and scandalous for those in adolescence.
Baseball card collectors know that the card of all cards is the T206 Honus Wagner. This is part of a series of baseball cards made from 1909-1911. It has been said that Wagner was one of the all-time greats. For an unknown reason, Wagner requested that his card no longer be made. At the very most, it is estimated that there were 200 Honus Wagner cards in circulation. These cards have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in some cases, millions of dollars).
I’m not sure what sort of emotions might accompany those who are holding something of great monetary and historic value. Whether it is a baseball card, a founding document, or a precious jewel, I suppose that people could experience a combination of awe and fear. They could be in awe of the item and in fear that they might mishandle it.
But anything that we can imagine—even something worth millions of dollars—is nothing compared to the greatness of God. Proverbs 1:7 counsels that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” And the wisdom of Ecclesiastes concludes with “fear God and keep his commandments.” Perhaps one of the most helpful verses in thinking about the awe and fear that should be felt in God’s presence is Exodus 20:19-20.
Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”
Did you catch the last sentence, “Do not be afraid…in order that the fear of Him may remain with you.” This is a bit of a paradox, a puzzle, a conundrum—choose your favorite word. The idea seems to be something like fear God and you won’t have to be afraid of Him.
During this time, the people of God had Moses to function as their mediator. They received the commandments of God so that they might be able to be in a covenant relationship with God. The presence of God should have stirred within the people a reverential and fearful awe of the Creator and King. If they lived their lives out of this reverential and fearful awe, then they need not be overcome with paralyzing terror.
Today, we have a mediator. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, see also Hebrews 9:15). Thanks be to God that we can come boldly into the presence of our King, and that we can be in covenant with the Creator. “Do not be afraid…in order that the fear of Him may remain with you.”