Being Scared of God

Being Scared of God August 9, 2023

Being Scared
Genesis 32:22 – 31

Show God's power
 The Voice of God (

God is scary and I am going to tell you why. Jacob met the living God and cried out, “I am afraid.” Now, we gather at the Jabbok to hear the voice of God. In particular I struggle with the words of Jacob:

“God is in this place and I did not know it.”
“I was afraid.”
“Yet my life is preserved.”

Perhaps we need to find out if we still take God seriously. As David Buttrick once said, “Well, maybe we don’t. We are moderate people: We calculate our charities, confess our minimal sins, schedule a “Minute for Mission” on a weekly basis, and run for dear life from anything in excess”

I’m not saying God is angry like some pagan god, but I am saying there is something scary about God. I think we are confused with we lose sight that it is “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.”

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob has two dreams and in the second dream he wrestles all night with God. Jacob says, “I have striven with God and yet my life is preserved.” “Yet” is the crucial word. Jacob expected to die at the hands of God and yet his life is preserved. Meeting with God was a life-or-death experience.

T-shirts should be printed: “I fought with God in worship and survived.”

I stake my entire faith on the reality that God never runs out of “yet. We can get lost in the first two phrases: “I did not know God was here” and “I was afraid.” But God is here to get us to “Yet my life is preserved.” “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!”
I ask you to imagine a personal meeting with God. In the novel, Revelation, Swain Hammond hears the actual voice of God. There is no mistaking the voice. At the first sound, the first rolling syllable, he’s swimming up out of a sleep, shocked into wakefulness. He stands where he stood, feeling all through him the murmuring life of each of his million cells. His bone marrow hums inside him like colonies of bees. He feels the breath pouring in and out of him, through the damp red passages of his skull. Swain is dizzy, stunned . . . the force of it coursing through him.

Now, if you were meeting God for lunch today wouldn’t you have some apprehension? I think so, but I also think we have done everything in our power to make God seem common, ordinary, no big deal, take it or leave it.

Something has left the building when we have lost our sense of the holiness, the awesome presence of God in this place. I once officiated a funeral where the pianist started the 15-minute prelude, and people were standing in the back, yakking, laughing, joking. Sacred music filled the sanctuary – classical, Christian, powerful music, and the people acted as if they were at a class reunion. There was a casket and a grieving family and the crowd was as far removed from a sense of the divine and the holy as you can be. I tell you this as a parable of what has happened on our watch.

Millions of Americans have stopped going to church. One person who stopped going to church said, “I realized that I had faith and I don’t need the church every Sunday for that.” That is a long way from “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

There is nothing at church to cause them to approach God with fear and trembling. It’s all so comfortable, so much a take-it-or-leave it rather than a life and death experience. I think we have worked too hard to eliminate all the tension in worship. No sense of God “taking our breath away.” The church no longer knows drama. Now, TNT claims “We Know Drama.”

We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. If you are guarding a player and he gives a pump fake and you go for it, he will make his shot or you will foul him. If he does it the next time down the court and you go for it again, same results. Nothing will change until you stop going for the pump fake. If you don’t stop, the coach will put you on the bench and sitting there on your butt, you will not move or be faked out by anything. If we are going to stay in the game, we need to change.

The church has cut out the natural tension of being in God’s presence. Since then, we have put as much distance between ourselves and the discomfort God causes us to feel as possible. Down in Florida, the land of fantasy and imagination, the legislature passed a law that prevents teachers from teaching any material that would make white students “uncomfortable.”

People have given up this place because there’s so little drama. Liberals go to churches where the preachers tell them how awful the evangelicals are while evangelicals go to churches where the preachers tell them how awful the liberals are. If every Sunday, the preacher’s sermon makes you say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble.

I have reached the conclusion that we are too much like Jacob. Jacob has a scary encounter with the living God, but he is not changed in any way. Sure, Jacob prays, but it is not a prayer of a man transformed by his frightening experience. It is the prayer of the same old bargaining, scheming Jacob. I think Jacob wrote the original version of The Art of the Deal.

He was the same old Jacob who cheated his brother, Esau, not once, but twice. Esau may have been the person who coined the saying, “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on me.” Same old Jacob. Is this our story? Same old people, Sunday after Sunday, year after year.

Jacob attempts to make a deal with God, carve out a bargain with God, negotiate with God. Right here is what has gone haywire with the church. We have bargained and negotiated until there’s nothing left to amaze us. Jacob prays, “If you will give me what I want, make me wealthy, healthy, and wise, then you will be my God and I will erect a house for you and give you a tenth of what you give me.” Jacob says, “Let’s make a deal.” Jacob cuts a hard bargain.

Jacob’s deal with God – our deal. We have promised God that we will never get too carried away by anything as long as God never expects too much of anything out of us. We have promised to do all things decently and in order and to make sure that everything gets referred to a committee. We are, after all, calm, rational, and comfortable people. The gamblers at the Saratoga Racetrack take bigger risks than we do at EFC.

We have to stop cutting deals and start confessing our failures to God. I’m not sure who is Jacob and who is Esau in our current national drama, but the Democrats and the Republicans are acting out the story of these two brothers and there’s a point in the story where they have to face one another, remember they are brothers and sisters, and reconcile. In the story, Jacob finally faced his fears and went home to meet Esau. When the two met, “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Who will be Esau in our current political divide? Will it be the Democrats? Or the Republicans?

Being in Jacob’s place is a good thing for all of us. “The sun rose upon [Jacob] as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” I will accept the pain, the struggle, the limping every week as I leave this place. I will know that I have come to the city of the living God, to the house of Almighty God.

When the words are said, “this is my body,” “this is my blood,” “pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts” – there is nothing we can do to prevent God from being present. This is God’s house. “There is still God in this place.” That should cause us to pause at least.

Let’s get the church to the ford of the Jabbok. Let’s wrestle with God and catch our breath in anticipation and fearfulness as God shows us what to do next. That is what I mean by saying that God is scary.

Browse Our Archives