Recovering Reverence

We are to recover reverence for God
Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

I remember reading R.C. Sproul’s (1939-2017) book The Holiness of God several years ago. It awakened in me a sense of how little I apprehend God’s majesty. God had become so familiar and I had taken him for granted. And I realized this was by no means an individual problem; the modern church had fallen into the same ditch.

In our fascination with God’s love and mercy, we have lost sight of his majesty. In our excitement at God’s approachability, we fail to sense his glorious power. Yes, we come to a loving God, but we forget he is a king. We have lost reverence for God.

It’s often missing from our prayers and in many popular songs. Our preaching often dispenses with it altogether, and rather than bring us a sermon from the throne, what we have are brief chats and discussions. In a bid to draw the world to Christ, we have cast away his majesty. The Roman soldiers removed his robes at the crucifixion; we discard his glory.

And when those ‘guests’ come into our gatherings or congregations, we really have nothing of distinction to give them. Our motivational messages already line the shelves in bookstores and are widely available as PDF downloads. Our ‘gospel’ songs are available all day on YouTube. How about our prayers? Well, even those consists largely of petitions to a benevolent but hardly transcendent Creator. Rather than bring the world to bow before a God they are fleeing from, we bring them to merely reflect on themselves and their wants.

The God of the Bible evokes awe, and reverent worship is the proper response of his creatures. He is the Mighty One who speaks and summons the earth (Psalm 50:1). Humans owe him not a casual waving of the hand but a solemn bowing of the heart and knees in royal adoration. Nothing less will do.

R.C. Sproul referred to the work of the German scholar, Rudof Otto (1869-1937), in exploring this idea of God’s holiness. Otto employed a Latin phrase in expressing this sense of the holy. He called it mysterium tremendum, which may be roughly translated as ‘awful mystery.’ God is a mystery, a being immensely different from his creatures, and we lack the words to accurately describe him. Along with this awareness of mystery is a sense of fear or dread that our encounter with God brings. Imagine Moses at the burning bush, or the Israelites at Mount Sinai, or Jacob after his vision of God at Bethel. That was also the impression the disciples got when they witnessed Jesus’s glory on the mountain (Matthew 17:1-5).

Courtesy of Markus Spiske @markusspiske on Unsplash

God is God and any true knowledge of him must include that sense of his weightiness or dreadfulness. Otto describes the human response as a ‘hushed, trembling and speechless humility of the creature’.

God is a King and his revelation displays his majesty. It is sacrilege not to reflect this in our worship.

There was nothing casual about the wiping out of the entire human race in Noah’s time in judgement (Genesis 6-8). It was a fearful act by the sovereign ruler of the universe.

When he took on the greatest nation of the time (Egypt) in defence of his people, humiliating their gods and humbling their king, he was showing his majesty (Exodus 5-14).

In giving the law to the Israelites, God descended on Mount Sinai in fire and smoke (Exodus 19:16). To a man, the Israelites could sense that here was the great God of all the earth. And they were terrified lest they should be destroyed (Exodus 20:18,19).

When Nadab and Abihu trifled with God’s worship, he killed them (Leviticus 10:1-2), sending a message throughout the Jewish community: God’s holiness was not to be taken lightly.

Shortly before the Israelites attacked Jericho, God appeared to Joshua. When Joshua realised it was him, he knelt in recognition of his majesty (Joshua 5:13-15). The same happened when Samson’s parents had an encounter before their son was conceived and born (Judges 13). To encounter God is to stand before transcendent majesty.

And we recall Isaiah’s well-known but hardly considered vision of the Lord. The cherubs could say nothing other than acknowledge the divine glory and majesty (Isaiah 6:3). In such an awe-inspiring moment, Isaiah felt naked and his sins so gripped his conscience that he could only blurt out:

Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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!

Isaiah 6:5

Lest we think God’s majesty is confined to the pages of the Old Testament, the height of his glory is revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus. His teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection confirm the truth of John’s testimony: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). 

His dignity was so obvious that even his enemies feared to arrest him (John 7:45, 46). His majesty was physically displayed to his three closest disciples on the mountain, with a clear instruction that they listen to him (Matthew 17:1-5). The dying thief could perceive his glory even in the midst of his suffering, and he humbly sought his mercy (Luke 23:40-42).

What more shall we say of God’s dealing with the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), or his swift judgment on Elymas (Acts 13:8-12)? Throughout the book of Acts we see God’s power at work, just like Jesus promised (Acts 1:8), as the gospel spread throughout the Roman empire.

And the closing book of the Bible presents his splendour and majesty through diverse imagery which reinforce his breathtaking glory (Revelation 4:2-5). We see the creatures and the angels unable to do anything other than fall in reverence—yes, reverence (Revelation 4:6-11; 5: 8-14). Mere mortals, like us, cannot afford to do otherwise.

The entire thread of scripture speaks of a God fearful in holiness, majestic and sovereign over all that exists. If this God, the holy, majestic Creator and Redeemer revealed throughout Biblical history is our God, then let us kneel in reverence. Whether at home, at work, on the road, at play, or in our worship services. In fact, our hearts are to remain forever on their knees, for that is where they belong.

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