Whatever Happened to Reverence?

When my wife and I were newlyweds, we had the privilege of watching a video series by R.C. Sproul called The Holiness of God. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, R.C. was one of the spiritual giants of the 20th century and on into the 21st until he went to heaven in 2017. In this video series, which is based on his 1985 book of the same title, he begins with Isaiah 6, where the Lord gives Isaiah a majestic vision of Himself in heaven. Isaiah’s response is in verse 5 of that chapter: “‘Woe to me!'” I cried. “‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.'” We have a somewhat similar picture of a man’s encounter with the Lord in Luke 1, except in this case indirectly; an angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah to tell him about the fact that he and his wife are going to have a son, who they are to name John. (As an adult, he becomes John the Baptist.) What is Zechariah’s initial response to this visitation from the angel? In verse 12 we are told, “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.”

One thing that these two examples from Scripture show us is that when people have a direct encounter with the Lord or with one of his messengers, their initial response tends to be one of fear, which is quickly allayed. The Lord then gives them His message. When Scripture says “Fear God” or “Fear the Lord,” it has a somewhat different meaning than the fear that Isaiah and Zechariah had, but it is related; it means to treat the Lord with deep respect, to be in awe of His holiness, and to honor Him. That’s what “reverence” is.

There is a troubling trend in today’s American churches. I have frequently heard and read something like this: “Tell the Lord whatever you want even if you’re angry, frustrated… He can take it.” Usually, people who say this use it as an excuse to vent to the Lord anything they want. For example, people apparently like to tell the Lord that they are angry with Him, typically because their prayers haven’t been answered the way that they want. What does the Bible tell us? In Psalm 130:5 we read, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” This psalm, like many others, begins with the psalmist crying out to the Lord. In verses 1-2 of the same psalm we read, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” Another particularly striking example like this is Psalm 13, which begins, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” However, look at the last two verses of that same psalm: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” The pattern in many psalms is that the psalmist pours out his negative feelings to the Lord, but then ends with affirming his trust in the Lord’s goodness. Shouldn’t we do the same?

Another troubling trend is people, even pastors, being irreverently critical of someone in Scripture, or even of Scripture itself. It’s easy to be critical of virtually everyone in Scripture (except Jesus and Daniel!), and we can certainly learn from the sins and weaknesses of characters in the Bible, but we still need to do it with reverence. Peter seems to be a favorite target of pastors, I suppose understandably; however, let’s not forget that the Lord mightily used Peter in the early church. Jonah is another character that it’s easy to be critical of. He is rightly referred to as the reluctant prophet because he initially disobeyed the Lord’s command to go to Nineveh. Then after he preached, the Ninevites repented, and Jonah was angry because the Lord relented from destroying them. (The Ninevites were enemies of Israel.) However, it’s one thing to be critical of Jonah; it’s quite another for someone, especially a pastor, to call Jonah a “turd.” (This is secondhand information, as it was reported to me by a friend.) This is basically the same as calling a person a piece of you-know-what. It’s never right, especially for a pastor, to resort to this kind of name-calling, but it’s exacerbated by the fact that Jonah, for all his faults, was still a prophet of the Lord!

Regarding being critical of Scripture itself: I once heard someone say (I hesitate to even write this), “The Old Testament law about stoning a rebellious child is stupid.” No doubt the person who said this was a rebellious child! You can read the law for yourself in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. For a little context, it does not sound like this passage is describing a young child because this is what the parents say in verse 20: “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Now, I will say that I am glad we are no longer required to do this! How many of us would have survived adolescence?! However, calling anything in Scripture “stupid” is very dangerous. The second part of verse 21 says, “You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” In other words, rebellion against the Lord is evil, and indeed, before we come to faith in Christ, that is what we are all guilty of. Thank the Lord for His mercy to us!

The trend towards people feeling free to “vent” to the Lord, being disrespectful of people in Scripture, and even critical of Scripture itself are all symptomatic, I believe, of a decreasing reverence for the Lord. Let’s be reverent in relation to the Lord and His Word!

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