Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.” (Isa 6:5)
The expression mysterium tremendum describes the numinous experience of awe and dread in the presence of the almighty and transcendent God. The question is, why had Isaiah not felt this fear and wonder in God’s temple before? The answer is that this theophany—or manifestation of God—and the seraphim’s proclamation of God’s holiness (Isa 6:3) made Isaiah aware of God’s holy presence in the temple. He realized his utter sinfulness in the light of God’s presence, bringing fear of judgment and condemnation.
Today, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the church is the church of the living God (1 Cor 6:19; 1 Tim 3:15). But have we, in the same way, forgotten that He is the holy God? Is God’s presence in our lives merely an abstract concept, easily forgotten, as our worship becomes more sterile? The danger of God becoming irrelevant in our life, either consciously or subconsciously, is that we will depart and go our separate way.
Isaiah’s experience prompts us to re-evaluate our relationship with God, and reflect on what He requires of us. In this issue of Manna, we are reminded to keep ourselves in the love of God. If we fall from His grace by not persisting in our faith, how can we find our way back? We need to honor God as the Lord of our life and submit to His sovereignty by fearing Him again.
We may ask, if God calls us His friend, and perfect love casts our fear (Jn 15:15; Jas 2:23; 1 Jn 4:18), why should we fear Him? Why do we need to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)? If there “is no fear in love” (1 Jn 4:18a), how can we love and fear God at the same time?
The “fear” that we should have is an attitude of reverence towards God in our lifelong journey towards salvation, rather than the irrational, emotional fear discussed in 1 John. This is godly fear (Heb 12:28). When we serve God with fear, we can rejoice with trembling (Ps 2:11). This is the progressive relationship we should have with God, rooted not only in love, but also fear of Him, leading to heavenly joy.
So, we see how fear plays a key role in our faith journey and in our relationship with God. Many of us start from the position of indifference—ignorant and unaware of God’s presence. We progress to the point of awareness but remain terrified in His presence. Isaiah was afraid of the majesty and mystery of God when God appeared because he did not truly know God. Since the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), we must move on in our faith journey to become God’s servant and trusted friend. As we draw closer to Him, we also continue to honor and respect Him, with love and fear. Let us continue to serve Him in truth, with all our heart (1 Sam 12:24a).