But is that right? Should Christians really approach life in a spirit of fear and trembling?
Of course, in practice, that is often how many of us spontaneously feel about life; but is it a Good Thing for a Christian to feel?
Well, no - it isn't.
A Christian who had perfect faith in God - our loving Father and the creator; would not fear life. Because he would know that creation was being shaped around his needs.
And one who had firmly committed to follow Christ to resurrected Heavenly life, would not be prone to trembling - but rather would have a sublime confidence borne of the prospect of an eternity of joy.
We cannot live up to this ideal at all times, far from it; but surely the times when we tremble fearfully about our present and future lives are times when faith is weak and sin has the upper hand. At a Man's best, he does not suffer so.
In a world afflicted (with official and media encouragement and indeed enforcement) by fear, resentment and despair (and by mandatory guilt if you are a white man) --- at such time surely it is one of the greatest things a Christian can do to strive for the opposite frame of mind - to live in the light of love, sustained by faith and hope?
And such a person would be mostly cheer-full and care-free (to the extent that this is natural to his nature, anyway). Why shiver and shake with fear when God is on our case, and Jesus is leading the way? A Christian - above all people - can afford to be discerning, active and decisive; since he is backed-up and covered by the power of repentance.
This ideal Christian would cheerfully approach his actual life in a spirit of adventure - confident that God brings him what he most needs, and his job is to learn from it - trying his best but knowing he will repeatedly fail; therefore ready and willing to repent - and knowing that repentance is fully effectual.
And contra that passage from Philippians; such an one would repent his lapses into fear, and trembling.
It's a strange passage. I wonder how much of the English sense of fear and trembling is implied in the original language. I would interpret it simply to mean humility and a proper sense of the wonder and majesty of God. But he loves us as our Father and he wants the very best for us.
I wonder if fear of God is like the sacraments. We cannibalize Christ, which releases us from the compulsion to cannibalize other human beings; maybe fearing God works the same way.
How about absolute rage for a world where evil seems to defy physics while good has the gravity of Jupiter to contend with?
It's as if the world was abandoned.
"I wonder how much of the English sense of fear and trembling is implied in the original language."
μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου? I'm afraid that it's pretty close to the English sense.
The confluence of these two English words is very common in Paul (1Cor 2:3, 2Cor 7:15, Eph 6:5 NIV obscures this last). And it is very common in the Septuagint Greek as well, but I suppose that Paul's reference is Psalm 2:11.
To me at least, it is a hard Psalm to integrate with Christian truths, but at the same time it seems to be self-evidently true and inspired.
Psalm 2 KJV
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
The verse before it references Judgement Day where everyone will be in the presence of God kneeling confessing Jesus as Lord to the Glory of the Father.
The verse following it reminds us that this is who is now dwelling within us, working out His will.
The verse isn't really that odd in the context of chapters 1 & 2 is it?
Yes, God is love and the Bible frequently reminds us just who that God is that loves us.
He is a Holy God and he tells us to be Holy even as God is Holy. There is an element of fear involved in the understanding of Gods holiness throughout the entire Bible. Confronted with Holiness men fall to their knees and say "woe is me!"
It is good that He loves us, perfect love casts out fear.
We see through a glass darkly and fear, we continue to look and see the love that conquers that fear.
", work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" I think this is not problematic with Catholic Christianity, Orthodox Christianity and Oriental Christianity.
Protestant Christianity has a problem because of Sola Fide. You can explain it away or ignore it, of course. Thomas Jefferson ended up cutting all the parts of the Bible that he didn't like and produced his own Bible.
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