Awesome and Dreadful

Bless the LORD, o my soul.

In Psalm 103, David gives two main benefits provided by the LORD: Forgiveness and Satisfaction. As I was reading through this rich psalm, I noticed that David is careful to qualify his statements about these specific blessings. Here’s what I mean:

In verses 10-11, speaking of God’s forgiveness, he writes, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love….

(Then he adds)….toward those who fear Him”

He continues in verses 12-13, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion….

(He makes sure to qualify)….to those who fear Him.”

Finally, in verse 17, speaking of the satisfaction provided by the Lord, he writes, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…

(Again, he narrows the application)…on those who fear Him.”

Two things jump off the page to me:

1. There is certainly common grace in the world (just read the next psalm — ps. 104), from our beating hearts that keep us alive to the shining sun that provides warmth and growth, and so much more. God lavishes these things on all of mankind by His good pleasure. But, David is not concerned with common grace here. These benefits (forgiveness, satisfaction) are exclusive. They belong only to those who fear the Lord, who understand who He is, who understand the Gospel.

2. The fear of the Lord deals with our conception of God. A.W. Tozer provided the best and most succinct definition I’ve read. He said, “This fear of God was more than a natural apprehension of danger; it was a nonrational dread, an acute feeling of personal insufficiency in the presence of God.” He also wrote, speaking of the biblical saints of old, “However intimate their communion with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was the conception of God as awesome and dreadful.”

God is transcendent, and we’d do well as modern Christians to begin to develop a heart and mind that see Him as such. He can be your friend (Exodus 33:11, James 2:23, John 15:4), but He is certainly not your equal. Too much of our attitude and conversation reek of this crass disrespect. Our modern self-assurance needs to be replaced with deep personal insufficiency.

This conception, God as awesome and dreadful, is the beginning of wisdom.

The New Testament develops this conception and reveals that the fear of the Lord starts and ends in Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

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