Afraid of God? Maybe We Should Be? Maybe We Shouldn’t?(Thinking Through Luke 5:1-11)

Does the thought of God terrify you? Maybe it should? Maybe it shouldn’t? Simon Peter had a moment of terror early in his relationship with Jesus which will help us think through our response to God.

Peter’s Scary Moment

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

Luke 5:1-5 (NLT)

Let us remember that Simon Peter was a professional fisherman. Jesus was a a carpenter turned teacher. The fishermen knew better than to let down their nets. Yet,

…this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.”

Luke 5:7,8 (NLT)

When Simon Peter tells Jesus to “Go away from me, Lord, because I’m a sinful man!” we should not think of this as an affirmation of a Christian statement of faith. At that point in time there was no Christian statement of faith to affirm. Rather, this is the recognition on Simon Peter’s part that Jesus is no ordinary human being, that Jesus somehow represents the divine. Simon’s natural response to the divine is terror.

“Go jump in a lake!” or “don’t throw me overboard!”?

When Simon Peter told Jesus to go away, we should remember they were on a boat. Where exactly did Peter think Jesus was going to go? Yet we should probably should not think of Simon as telling Jesus to go jump in the lake. Rather, this is a statement of humility, of saying “don’t throw me overboard. Don’t let me die.”

Which of these two sentiments do people hold toward God today? Some respond to the thought of divinity with fear, like Simon; “please don’t throw me overboard, don’t throw me away!” Others respond to the idea of God, Jesus, and Christianity with a fearless kind of attitude, with “I don’t need God or Jesus, and anyone pushing that on me can go jump in a lake.” Some speak as if they would tell God to go jump in a lake given the chance.

Should we be fearless?

What if such fearless people, instead of merely entertaining thoughts about God, found themselves fully in the presence of God? Would have a different response? Ideas are easy to dismiss, manipulate, and misunderstand. When God, or Jesus as God the Son, is just an idea to us we can easily say “go jump in a lake, for I am self-sufficient, good, capable, and have all I need.”

However, if instead of merely entertaining ideas about the divine, we were confronted with the presence of the divine, our natural response would be closer to that of Peter: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person.”

We see this with Isaiah when he has a vision of God:

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”
Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”

Isaiah 6:1-5 (NLT)

Isaiah had the same reaction to a vision of God as Simon Peter did to Jesus. Both were confronted with the awful reality that a sinful person does not belong in the presence of a holy God.

If we can go from thinking of the divine as an idea to an experience of the reality of the divine, we will go from “go jump in a lake, God,” to “please don’t throw me off the boat!” Perhaps we should not be fearless.

But should we be afraid of God?

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”

Luke 5:10 (NLT)

Not only does Jesus tell Simon Peter to not be afraid, he goes even further in boosting Simon’s confidence by telling him he has something for him to do. Far from being afraid of being thrown off the boat, Simon could have confidence that Jesus had made space for him on the crew.

The apostle Paul had a similar experience. If Peter could say “I am a sinful man,” Paul could say that even more so! Yet he also was invited to be part of the crew:

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:15,16 (NLT)

We could sum up the response of God to Isaiah, Simon Peter, Paul, and many, many others with “though you are very aware that you do not belong here in my presence, you do belong here in my presence and I have a purpose for you, for though it is not what you deserve, it is what I want.”

That is the Gospel message, the Good News message, that God has made a place for us in his Kingdom, and further, that God has a purpose for us in his Kingdom, in this world. The cross makes that possible as we experience the reconciliation required for a sinful person to be in the presence of a holy God. We are called to take our place on the crew, in God’s presence, and in God’s Kingdom. We are called to a purpose.

Peter, Paul, and many others took their place on Jesus’ crew:

And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Luke 5:11 (NLT)

As we read of the adventures of the apostles following the resurrection of Jesus, and as we read their letters, they don’t seem scared of God. They seem thrilled to be serving.

So should we be afraid of God or not?

Are you scared of God? Maybe you should be? Maybe you shouldn’t? It really depends on what we are thinking when we are in the boat, when we are in that Simon Peter moment of finding ourselves confronted with the reality of the divine.

If the thought of God terrifies us, there is good news; in moving beyond mere ideas about God, to actually knowing God, who reveals himself and his desires for us in Jesus, we can trade in being terrified of God for being joyful, confident, and fearless in serving God.

The Most Important Decision We Face (Thinking Through Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices. This means we are confronted with so many decisions, perhaps too many. There is such a thing as decision fatigue as we are bombarded with having to make a multitude of decisions daily. This might explain why I start each day with the exact same breakfast, porridge. That is one less decision on my plate!

The other, and greater, problem, is that with all the decisions we make in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime, the most important decision we face gets lost. What is that decision? Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for a hint.

The Book of Deuteronomy captures what Moses said to God’s people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This was an important new beginning for the people who had spent the last forty years in the wilderness following their rescue from slavery in Egypt. As they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, Moses called the people to make a decision:

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.

Deuteronomy 30:15 (NLT)

While it sounds like the people are to choose between life and good, or death and bad, that is not the real decision that is to be made. Those are the consequences of the decision that must be made:

For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, . . .

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:16-17,19,20 (NLT emphasis added)

The decision is whether to be in a love relationship with God, or not.

God had already called this one people into a special relationship through the call of Abraham. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness. God gave them the law and made promises about the future. In other words, the people were called to decide whether or not to be in a love relationship with the God Who had already decided to be in a love relationship with them. God had already made his choice. He chose this people, Israel, to be a special people through whom He would work out His purposes for the world. Now it was their turn to commit to the relationship.

There were consequences to their decision. It was as if God was saying “I choose you, we can do this life together, or you can be on your own. Of course, being on your own will not go well, for there are big bad nations out there who will want your land for resources and security, and your people as slaves. But if you want to do life with me, I will be with you, and protect you.”

Today, God offers to be in a love relationship with each one of us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We each face a decision on whether or not be in that love relationship God offers. God has already made His choice, and that choice was made clear at the cross. God chooses a love relationship with us. Do we choose to be in that love relationship? There are consequences to what we choose. God will either be in our future, or not. That is our decision to make. Has a lifetime of decision-making pushed this, the biggest decision of our lives, onto the back-burner?

This one big decision, to be in a love relationship with God, will be reflected in every little decision.

The call to love God was accompanied with a call to follow God’s ways: “love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways” (verse 16). This would affect all of life’s decisions. God’s people could not be in a love relationship with God and live like the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Canaanites, or anyone else. Choosing to be in a love relationship with God meant being different, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Some may think of God’s law negatively, like it was a straight jacket and all about control. It was, however, really about becoming a better people and a more just society. We might read the Old Testament law and think, “what, they didn’t get to eat bacon?!” The Canaanites might think “what, they don’t need to set their children on fire?!”

Through the law, God’s people had the opportunity to be freed from foolish and evil practices, from the injustices that plague unjust societies. Reading the Old Testament prophets, the concept of justice comes up often. They often mention how the Israelites failed to follow God’s ways, failing to take care of the most vulnerable of their society. Through following God’s ways the people would be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. In choosing to be in a love relationship with God, and in allowing that one decision to shape all their decisions, God’s people would be taking steps toward the Kingdom of God.

Today, a love relationship with God will be reflected in every choice we make.

Spirituality is not something we fit into a time slot each day. Spirituality is at the centre of our being, affecting every decision.

Let’s not assume that the way we allow our decision to be in a love relationship with God shape all our decisions is by listing every rule we find in the Bible. We are not old covenant people, so to blindly apply every rule we find in Deuteronomy would be to miss the moment that we live in, the love relationship with God that we are offered. We are new covenant people, with a focus on Jesus, his teaching and example. Through following Jesus we take steps toward the Kingdom of God.

The Christian walk is more about heart work than keeping a set of rules. Developing character is hard work and takes a lifetime. It also takes God’s Spirit.

To choose a love relationship with God is to choose God every time over everything else that would want our allegiance.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (NLT emphasis added)

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we discover that God’s people were often likened to a faithless spouse. Sometimes they did worship other gods, which meant that sometimes they did live according to the lifestyles and standards of other nations. Sometimes they did end up sacrificing their children. Seemingly the Canaanite god Molech liked that kind of thing. The God Who led the people out of Egypt did not. GOD offered them a love relationship, but GOD must be their only God.

Today, there are many gods looking for our allegiance.

Money can accomplish great things. However the love of money can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects so many other decisions. Sex is a wonderful gift of God. However the love of sex can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects other decisions. Similar things can be said of power, image, fame, family, celebrity, alcohol, influence, politics and so much more. These things and more can become like gods to us, negatively impacting our capacity to make godly and wise decisions. For a society that has largely rejected God and the supernatural, we sure do have many gods.

In conclusion.

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices, we are therefore confronted with so many decisions. There is one decision we face that is greater than any other. It is making a choice that is more important than choosing vocation, location, or even marriage partner: What are we going to do with God’s offer of a love relationship?

If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, all our decisions will be shaped by that one decision. If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, we will make the effort to identify and cease the worship of any gods that may be affecting our decisions.

GOD has already made His choice. Have you?