by Tom Brennen
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‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).
The father of the Lutheran Church, Martin Luther, wrote his Small Catechism in response to the low level of understanding of the faith among Christians. He had a specific concern about whether Christian parents were able to teach their children the basic tenets of the faith.
When I undertook my confirmation, I recall the pastor reading through the explanation of the Ten Commandments contained in the Small Catechism. I found it confusing, as Luther starts every explanation of each commandment with the phrase, ‘What does this mean? We should fear and love God’.
I was thinking in my head: ‘Fear? I thought this God welcomed sinners, and we no longer had anything to fear?’ At the time, I wasn’t brave enough to ask questions to clarify what Luther was saying.
We encounter a similar idea in Psalm 139, which praises God for ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ making us.
Pope Francis summarises this so well. He writes:
The fear of the Lord … doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us … It is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realisation that only in him do our hearts find true peace … the attitude of those who place all their trust in God and feel protected, like a child with his Father.
Likewise, Martin Luther called this concept ‘filial fear’. It is the fear of a child who adores their parent and does not want to let them down. It is a call to love, respect, follow, worship and serve.
To the world, saying that ‘you live in fear of the Lord’ would sound strange, as if you were living in oppression and fear of a judgemental God. But for the Christian, living in fear is instead to know God’s good news and desire to serve and love him, knowing that he loves us and empowers us to do so.
This God we worship did come in human form in Jesus, but he is also above and beyond all. We worship a God outside of space and time, who made the universe. Who, as the psalm says, literally created each of us in our mother’s womb. At the end of our lives, he welcomes us to his eternal reality.
That is what Luther wanted us to teach our children. That we worship a truly amazing God to whom we should bow down and worship in all his magnificence.
Lord, we worship and adore you in all your majesty and magnificence. May our fear of you always remind us of your enduring love and commitment to us, now and in eternity. Amen.