“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17, 18 esv
Today, as I look across the endless ocean while writing at the beach, I am impressed by the power of God and the beauty of His creation. What living on Cape Cod may lack in well designed roadways, God was not slack in creating some of the most beautiful sceneries. Yet, even as beautiful as this may seem, there is something fierce and dangerous about the ocean. In this way the duality of the ocean’s beauty and ferocity coexist. Some, focusing only on its beauty have been consumed by the unquenchable hunger of its bottomless chasms. Others, prompted by a crippling fear from watching Jaws, won’t set foot on its beaches.
In the first part of the book of Habakkuk, the prophet is focused only on God’s power when he asks for judgment on the wayward people of Israel. But after Habakkuk’s second response, he is pleading for God’s mercy. By the end of the book, Habakkuk has found a healthy balance of the character of God which prompted a reverential fear.
I’m reminded of what Mr. Tumnus said in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narian about Aslan, “After all, he’s not a tame lion.” To which Lucy replies, “No, but he is good.”
We must not allow what we think about God to dictate what we can know about Him. In God coexists two distinct natures which are rarely found balanced in humanity: justice and mercy. By focusing on His justice, we become puffed up and conceited about our own self worth. We judge those who think differently than we do, and we condemn the world to a hopeless fate. But when we focus solely on God’s mercy, we forget His holiness and the standard of righteousness we must strive for. In this conflict of ideas, buried deep within the contrast, is the true meaning of the fear of the LORD.
The third chapter of Habakkuk is the humbled prophet’s prayer and song to the LORD. He starts out by reminding God in His Wrath to remember mercy. Then he breaks down What the character of God will be like in His coming, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. Selah. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.” (Habakkuk 3:3-5 esv) Here, God is seen as coming with the sounds of praise, as a bright light, with rays coming from His hand, in power, proceeded by pestilence, and followed by plagues. That’s an interesting flow of events that encompasses His full nature.
The rest of the poem heralds what reasons we have to fear. Notice that fear is not given for Satan, demons, or enemies of the faith. There is a sort of fearlessness that comes with being a child of God. With a Father who is far greater than any of our enemies, we have nothing in this life that warrants our anxieties. But yet, with the power of God displayed in this song, there ought to arise in us a healthy, reverential fear of the almighty.
I would wager a guess that most people have fear for the wrong things or for the wrong reasons. As Christians, we are supposed to be fearless for what this world could threaten us with. A doctor once told me that his Christian patients are more afraid of death than the rest of his patients. It seems that much of our political discussion is built around fear. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians say how afraid they are for where America is headed.
On the other hand, there are those whose only fear of God is that they might be found out in their sin, that they won’t be good enough to please Him, and that their lives will never amount to anything. This is not humility, and it is not the biblical fear of the LORD.
It seems contradictory, but there is a sense where we as Christians need to process a fearless fear. I hope and pray that as we draw closer to our Savior, more in tune with the Spirit, and more aware of God’s character, that we will all be able to rejoice in the God of our salvation.