When Jesus rose from the dead the disciples were told, “Don’t be afraid.” Those who knew Jesus best, and were in turn known best by him, knew that, while friendship with Jesus is sweet, it is also demanding, difficult, and, at times, even fearsome.
As the Bible says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Presumably, it’s not fearful to fall into the hands of a dead god, an idol who never shocks or demands anything of you, who is no more than a fake, a godlet, a mere projection of your fondest desires and silliest wishes. Out in Galilee—a dusty, drab, out-of-the-way sort of place, just like where most of us live—the disciples of Jesus were encountered by the living God. That Jesus could not only give death the slip but also be in Galilee suggests that the risen Christ could show up anywhere, anytime. And that’s scary.
Here is God, not as a high-sounding principle, a noble ideal, or a set of rock-solid beliefs. Here is God on the move, moving toward us; God defined by God, God ordering us to be on the move into the world with God. And that’s a joyful thing—but more than a little scary too. When it dawns on you that the living God is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah we didn’t expect, the Savior we didn’t want, God in motion—well, fear is a reasonable reaction.
The modern world has many ways of turning us in on ourselves, eventually to worship the dear little god within. Christianity, the religion evoked by Jesus, is a decidedly fierce means of wrenching us outward. We are not left alone peacefully to console ourselves with our sweet bromides, or to snuggle with allegedly beautiful Mother Nature, or even to close our eyes and hug humanity in general. A God whom we couldn’t have thought up on our own has turned to us, reached to us, is revealed to be someone quite other than the God we would have if God were merely a figment of our imagination—God is a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly. This God scared us to death but also thrilled us to life.
– From The Best of Will Willimon, Abingdon, 2012
2 thoughts on “Fear of God”
I have just finished reading “Incorporation” and I am amazed, inspired, strengthened, and very ashamed of myself. I found way to much of myself in those pages and I just sat for awhile and prayed. Now I want you to know how much I appreciated your insightful and scathing look at the 21st century church. I have been a pastor in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for 36 years. I have met you twice once at a Cumberland Presbyterian Ministers’ Conference in McKenzie, TN and again at a National Conference on Preaching event at, I believe, Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville. I have read many of your previous works and have even borrowed a snippet or two from some of the messages you shared with Stanley Hauerwas as critic. I have always been blessed by your work but never like this novel, Incorporation. I hope you will consider a sequel. I look forward to seeing you in May in Charlotte, NC.at the next NCP event. Thanks so much for how you have blessed my life and ministry.
Eddie Jenkins, Pastor
Hope Cumberland Presbyterian Church
Wow. I’m humbled! A response like yours, from a brother in the trenches, really makes the tough task of writing worth while. Thanks. I can’t imagine that there is much of you in this seedy cast of characters in this novel. Still, isn’t it amazing whom God calls and whom God uses?
You be sure and identify yourself to me at the gathering in Charlotte.
Thanks, you have given me a great gift.