Monday, July 21, 2008


Eugene Peterson in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (pp. 40 ff.) says a key to understanding the spiritual life and our relationship with God is embedded in a biblical phrase 'the fear of the Lord'. The Old Testament is especially strong on this concept, with upwards of 138 occurrences of the term in a wide variety of contexts.

There's no available synonymous expression in English, though a combination of awe, reverence, worshipful respect might come close. One of the greatest modern writers in this area, Rudolf Otto, says nothing in his German language has an equivalent meaning either, so he resorted to Latin phrases (numen and mysterium tremendum).

If the 'fear of the Lord' is the key to relating to the living God, how's it done? Only in prayer and worship. Eugene Peterson: "Only by placing ourselves intentionally in sacred space, in sacred time, in the holy presence - and waiting... The moment we find ourselves unexpectedly in the presence of the sacred, our first response is to stop in silence. We do nothing. We say nothing. We fear to trespass inadvertently; we are afraid of saying something inappropriate. Plunged into mystery we become still, we fall silent, our senses alert. This is the fear-of-the-Lord."

Of course humans are tempted in these situations to "domesticate the mystery, explain it, probe it, name and use it. 'Blasphemy' is the term we use for these verbal transgressions of the sacred"... Another response is to trivialize the experience. Peterson quotes a fragment of a poem attributed to W. H. Auden:

I love to sin; God loves to forgive;
The world is admirably arranged.

(More to come: watch this space)

Rowland Croucher

For more on the essentials of Christianity visit these articles.