When I was young, hearing sermons on the fire and brimstone of a God who would smite a man for trying to catch the Ark of the Covenant as it fell, people in church would talk about being in awe of God as this sense of wonder with a “healthy” amount of fear. A God that big, that powerful, should be something that we fear enough to respect.
I’ve written before about the lengths I’ve gone to remove legalism from the way I view God and the world, and this was another of those areas. This kind of fear of God was present when I knew I wasn’t enough, when I knew that I’d abused grace, when I knew that I could and should be better but kept failing. This fear became something that said that God loved me but He loved me more when I hustled for Him. And if God loved that way, wouldn’t everyone else too?
This logic is inherently problematic, of course, because a love dependent upon acts of service is no love at all. A love that depends upon what I bring to the table, what I have to offer, is selfish and shallow. There will be days where I manage more than even I expected of me, but there will also be days where the only thing I am able to bring to any table is myself. This view of love bleeds into everything else, too. It says that if I don’t make myself invaluable, people will see that I’m actually a mess and not want me around. It says that if people love me, they will serve me too, without me having to ask for it. It says that boundaries are selfish, and get in the way of “loving” well. It says that the façade of the meek servant-hearted-Christian girl was the surest way to be welcome and wanted (and eventually land a husband).
This logic also reduces God to something of a divine vending machine, who has historically gone a little crazy when people really tested His patience. Input payment, in the form of service, patience, prayer, church attendance, and sharing things on Facebook, and get out blessings. If you are short on the blessings, odds are good you didn’t put in enough payment. It’s reductive, it’s minimizing, and it’s flat-out false.
We don’t have to pay for the connection and grace that are already ours. We don’t. It’s just ours. Your seat at the table has never not had your name on it. There was no cut-off for an invitation, because of anything you can do or have ever done. You sexuality doesn’t diminish it, your past didn’t win or lose it for you, your repeat offenses don’t tarnish it or cheapen it. It’s just yours. It’s not further or closer to what you can reach depending on how frequently you’ve checked off the “good Christian” boxes or the regularity of your church attendance. It’s exactly where it’s always been, and it’s as available as it will always be.
Now that is not to say that we are not still tasked, as those who are infinitely and wholly loved by God, with working to call out and remove injustice. Injustice that we perpetuate against ourselves and others, injustice being perpetuated against us, and injustice that we observe happening and are tempted to turn a blind eye to in the name of “peace”. We can and should do everything in our power to make room for ourselves and go to bat for the good of those around us, ideally without trampling on them as they are doing the same. We are better when we work to find a way where people are safe, healthy and whole. We are better for this, but our grace and connection to God is not dependent on it.
This unique balance is one of the many things that makes me in awe of God. It’s not fear, because “perfect love casts out fear, as fear has to do with punishment; the one who fears has not been made perfect in love.” It’s not fear, but it is genuine awe.
That God could see me so intimately, know the things that I wish didn’t exist about myself, and still call such life from me – it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. That I would have the opportunity to impact students who have seen more than I will ever see at such a young age, and get to make the choice to speak life and stoke the fire of purpose, for hundreds of kids each day, is mind-boggling. That I would get to love and be loved by the people in my life, and that we would be able to help the others make room to be healthy and happy, is a blessing. That I would get to learn and grow in so many areas of my life, being taught by people both near and far, is a gift. That I would find that my ability to love, teach and learn is constantly expanding and that the list of people who routinely impact those areas of my life is ever-growing, is nothing short of astounding.
The richness of God has nothing to do, as far as I am concerned, with what lies on the other side of life, but instead has everything to do with the ways that I’m getting to watch and participate in new life here. In kingdom life here. Life that makes room at the table, and invites each of us to bravely stand in the sun, being at once, fully present and fully immersed in our own truth. Life that is ours when we hustle, and just as much ours when we rest. Ours in victory and in defeat. Life where grace and true-peace are never in short supply because of a God who is quick to remind us that His grace will never be insufficient.
Life with no shortage of awe, but a marked lack of fear, because we are loved and known by a perfect love.