Reverence – An Expanded View


My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels; consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.”

Professor Spencer quickly moved from an introduction to his subject, to Scripture—specifically to the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the these reactions to the holy, these postures before the holy, inform our understanding of reverence?

Professor Spencer uses the physical attitude of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. As he describes it, the concept has two prongs. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling or falling on our faces before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieve God’s heart. At one point He says He wants justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He then chastises His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

I admit. I know that Proverbs tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but I seldom think what that fear, that awe, that reverence looks like. These metaphors, drawn from our posture before God, help me to understand both avenues our Heavenly Father wishes His followers to take: kneeling before the sacred; standing against the profane.

From the archives: this article contains minor revisions from one posted here in January, 2011.

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Published in: on March 7, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments Off on Reverence – An Expanded View  
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The Christmas Spirit


Christmas treesChristmas is a cherished holiday with any number of traditions. Consequently, the “Christmas spirit” has been fashioned out of the best of the season. In fact, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his well-loved story about this season, takes to task those who disparage the qualities we most associate with the Christmas spirit—generosity, love, and joy.

Noticeably missing is fear. Odd, since fear played a great part in the first Christmas. Joseph was afraid to go through with his planned marriage because Mary turned up pregnant. He and she both were afraid, at separate times, when an angel visited them. So were the shepherds. Joseph again, having moved his new family to Egypt to keep Herod from killing their baby, was afraid to move back to Judea.

In other words, the first Christmas wasn’t about the warm and fuzzy, the beautiful lights and winter-scene cards or a warm fire with stockings all hung by the chimney with care. In fact, no presents showed up that first night. Some gawking strangers smelling like sheep did, parroting something about good tidings of great joy. All Mary could do was to file their words away to think about later. After all, she had a baby to feed—her first born, and what did she know about being a mother? Might she have been just a little fearful?

Appropriate to this topic are words Jonathan Rogers quoted in his blog some years ago:

I love Andrew Peterson’s song “Labor of Love,” sung like an angel by Jill Phillips on Behold the Lamb of God, my favorite Christmas album ever. Here’s the first stanza and chorus:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love.

But not without fear.

In fact, fear followed Jesus throughout His life. He provided a miraculous catch of fish for Peter and he was afraid. He healed the guy who couldn’t walk, and the whole group of witnesses were afraid. He walked on water and His disciples were afraid. He raised a young man from the dead and the whole crowd was afraid. He kicked out the demons from a possessed man, and everyone in the entire district was afraid.

Actually Jesus seemed to validate their fear. At one point He said, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). As it turns out, Jesus is that One.

Yes, He is the Judge. Granted, His first appearance as a baby wasn’t to bring judgment. That will come when He returns. Isaiah says the government is on His shoulders. In Revelation it is the Lamb Himself who breaks the seals issuing in the final judgment of the world.

What’s my point. Only that the true Christmas spirit should include reverence. Love, sure. Generosity, joy, gladness, definitely. But worship—the bowing down part of Christmas—shouldn’t be neglected. The events surrounding Jesus’s birth created awe in those who witnessed them. In the same way, I’d do well to look with awe on our Savior. After all, fear is part of the Christmas spirit.

Published in: on December 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm  Comments (4)  
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Reverence – An Overview


My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels; consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.”

Professor Spencer quickly moved from his introduction, to Scripture—specifically the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the two reactions to the holy relate?

This is where Professor Spencer uses the physical posture of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. The concept has two prongs, he points out. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieved God’s heart. At one point He said He wanted justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He chastised His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

Anyway, I thought these two points were good starting places to understand reverence—kneel before the sacred and stand against the profane.

Re-posted with minor revisions from an article by this same title posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

Published in: on July 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fear And Forgiveness


One of the things that has come up in exchanges with emergent thinkers, whether through blog posts, videos, or books, is the idea that God is not to be feared. Some believe this a la Rob Bell — hell isn’t God’s wrathful punishment on the unrepentant.

Others, a la Paul Young — God, as portrayed in The Shack, serves Man. (“I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love.”)

Another group, a la Mike Morrell — God is to be re-imaged as a learning, evolving being who himself repented of his violent nature and through Jesus preached love instead.

One commenter to a year-old post said, “And for the first time in my life, I no longer fear GOD…which is a huge step toward maybe coming to a place where I can trust GOD.”

That attitude stuck with me. Consequently, as I’ve read through the Old Testament, I’ve made mental notes of people’s response to God. What I noticed most was reverential fear.

The people of Israel, for example, were so afraid of God after He talked with them, they told Moses to be their intermediary from then on because they didn’t want to die! Others fell on their faces, some apparently became as dead men.

The fear of the Lord is a theme throughout the books of poetry, too. But none grabbed me more than this one:

But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
– Psalm 130:4

That short verse contains the heart of God’s nature, I think. Yes, God is all powerful and will pour out His wrath on unrepentant sinners, but those who fear Him are the forgiven.

It is we who revere Him because we realize He is our lifeline, the enduring thread that holds us to His side. How can we but bow down and worship when the insurmountable debt we owed has been lifted from us to His scarred shoulders?

Might the unrepentant sinner also fear God? Perhaps in an angry, rebellious sort of way. The unrepentant sinner who believes in God may not see that He is just, that when He stands in judgment, His view of His creation is right and true. Consequently, a person who believes God to have the power to mete out punishment may not think it is fair of Him to do so.

This is not genuine fear, but imagined fear, more closely aligned to being afraid of the monster under the bed than the reverential terror described in Scripture when someone came face to face with God.

And yet …

The amazing thing is that God loves us. Which explains the forgiveness part. And the forgiveness causes the face-to-the floor response to God because of the wonder that such a Great Person could and would and did die for me.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Comments (13)  
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The Expression Of Reverence – Fear


The second part of Professor Gregory Spencer’s article “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes,” taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues, deals with what he calls The Reverence Continuum. From his study, he sees reverence expressed “in a kind of progression from fear to joy.”

I think he’s onto something. I’ve noticed in discussion with emergent thinkers like Mike Morrell or with various atheists, one of the issues that comes up repeatedly is this idea that God is a tyrant standing over us so that we cower in fear. I had a family member dismiss the Old Testament on these same grounds—God isn’t like that, they say. (Well, except for the atheist who says, That is what the Bible makes God out to be and I can’t accept a God like that, so I choose no god at all.)

What they miss is where a holy fear of a Holy God leads—joy, reverential joy. But fear is a part of this, and we’re not talking about the awe and respect that many think of when they speak of the fear of the Lord, though those responses are on the Reverence Continuum.

I remember when I first realized that a part of me was just a little afraid of my dad. It was a shocking realization and I felt a stab of disloyalty because I loved my father. But we were in the child-rearing phase when my mother said on occasion, Wait until your father gets home. So yes, I had a little healthy fear that I had broken faith with my dad, that he would be displeased and would deliver a just punishment that I didn’t want to bear.

Of course my childhood fear of my father is only a fraction of the fear that those prophets of old experienced when they fell on their faces before God. Here’s what Dr. Spencer had to say:

I don’t know about you, but Jesus scares me with his warning about how he’ll separate the sheep and goats and send the goats, who did not attend to “the least” among us, to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31-46). He said this not long after he cursed a fig tree because it did not bear fruit—and the tree withered and died (21:18-19). Jesus may be the son of love, but he is also the one who told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33). Would it be appropriate to stroll up to God and say, “Hey Big Guy, nice job on the giraffe”?

He then elaborates on the statement in Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Sometimes the only thing that gets us started in the right direction is fear: the fear of getting caught or the fear of being embarrassed at poor performance. Fear may not be the end of wisdom, but it is often the beginning because it shows we recognize our impoverishment. If fear is the only thing that gets us to kneel, then being frightened by God’s power and holiness is meaningful, though being in this situation might reveal more about us than it does about God.

But best of all is Dr. Spencer’s conclusion about fear as an expression of reverence:

Good fear can also put bad fear in its place. If we worship the gods of acceptance, popularity and success, we will overly fear rejection, loneliness and failure. If we revere God more, we will fear those lesser gods less. Whom do we most fear to disappoint?

What can I add to that!

Published in: on January 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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Reverence – An Overview


My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni recently featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels, consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.” As it turned out, much of what he said is relevant to the recent discussions we’ve had here and here about God.

Professor Spencer quickly moved from his introduction, to Scripture—specifically the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the two reactions to the holy relate?

This is where Professor Spencer uses the physical posture of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. The concept has two prongs, he points out. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieved God’s heart. At one point He said He wanted justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He chastised His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

Anyway, I thought these two points were good starting places to understand reverence—kneel before the sacred and stand against the profane.

Published in: on January 10, 2011 at 7:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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