By Camen Retzlaff
Sometimes I am asked why the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, says that we should “fear” God, who is love. Psalm 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
“Have you not known, have you not heard?” says God in Isaiah this week. It is God who sits above the circle of the earth. We, the inhabitants of this planet, are like grasshoppers. God stretches a curtain of heaven for us, as a tent. God is reassuring here: this defeat, this moment in history, this war is not the big story. The story is so much bigger. God brings princes to naught and makes rulers of the earth like dead plants blown in the wind.
The Hebrew and Greek words we translate as fear are also sometimes translated as awe or reverence. If you contemplate God, you may come to a place of awe. Have you not known? Have you not heard? This cosmic reality is way bigger than me, way bigger than all of us, all we know or can comprehend. That is terrifying.
I think the closest I can come in explaining when I have felt awe as fear is when I lay on my back and look at the stars. When I try to put myself in an open space so that I can’t even see the horizon — all I can see, my entire field of vision, is the night sky, filled with stars. I sometimes gasp, and reach out to grab the grass, clutch soil. Because it feels as if I am falling into the heavens, and I might be lost. I am so small, and the universe is so big. It is terrifying and wonderful —that is the fear of God, I think, to which we are commanded.
Dripping Springs, Texas, is a Dark Sky community and for this I am grateful. On the land that is our church, we can see the stars, and the community has lighting policies that allow this awe-inspiring view to be preserved.
Other people in our church Bible study gave examples of such wonder: of standing on the edge of the ocean, thinking of its depth and breadth, of standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Nature teaches us the meaning of awe.
And this fear of God is wonderful because it is given to us. The majesty of nature is overwhelming, and humbling, and deeply joyful: we are part of this. And through Isaiah God promises that this is ours: Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The unknowable, unimaginable creator of the universe, the one who never grows weary or faint, holds us. Those who look for answers in the small things, the short-term of human history, will fall exhausted, but those who look long, who contemplate the wonder of creation and our part in it, will mount up with wings like eagles, running without growing weary, walking without growing faint.
The stars do this to me. And when I see images sent back from the Hubble telescope, of such things as “The Pillars of the Universe,” named by borrowing British preacher Charles Spurgeon’s phrase, I feel like falling to my knees in awe. And gratitude and love, because we are part of this. The wonders of creation include the vastness of distant nebula and of the tiny electrons in the cells of our bodies. Galaxies and babies: as Spurgeon says, “And now wonder, ye angels, the Infinite has become an infant; he, upon whose shoulders the universe doth hang, hangs at his mother’s breast, he who created all things, and bears up the pillars of creation” (from the sermon, “The Condescension of Christ”). ” As Isaiah says,
To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One…
The everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint or grow weary..
God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Carmen Retzlaff is the pastor of New Life Lutheran, an outdoor church in the Hill Country of Central Texas, ancestral home of the Tonkawa and Apache, part of the Lower Colorado River watershed atop the Trinity aquifer. She is a contributing editor to AllCreation.org, a living archive, documenting and drawing from diverse wisdoms in regards to today’s environmental challenges, and a partner in the Wild Church Network.
Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.
For another Wild Lectionary perspective on eagles’ wings read Ginny Doctor’s article