God is love, of this we are certain. The Bible makes that clear. But what we are not so certain of is what kind of love he is. Our definition of love drums up images of hearts, dating, flirting, crushes, sex, and romance of some sort or another. Love is plastered all over malls and greeting cards. It fills prime time television. The word is used to describe what we feel when we listen to the new release of U2's hit single..."I love it"--"you'll love it"! We love steak and skyping. We feel loved when someone takes out the garbage without being asked. Love is a warm feeling or a hot romance. These are all aspects of love, but I have a feeling it only grazes God's version of love.
Love in the Bible seems to entail something rarely associated with warm fuzzies. Love in the Bible is--at times--furious, jealous and exclusive. It asks for faithfulness and obedience. "If you love me keep my commandments" Jesus said. And Paul said that those the Lord loves, he chastens (disciplines). Just punishment seems to be a by-product of deep love. Love doesn't just let things go without justice. Justice is as much a part of love as mercy. Love gets angry. Love defends to the death. Love cries and gets hurt. Love is holy. By that I mean more than perfect...love is pure.
The part of the reading today that struck me was the story of where Ananias and Sapphira held back money from the land they sold and lied to the assembly leading them to believe they gave everything. It was something we all do from time to time, letting someone believe we did more than we really did or less than we really did. Embellishing a story, sharing only the parts that make the greatest impact...come on, this is standard fare for humanity these days.
But here's the kicker. They tried to lie to the Holy Spirit, not just people. The thought they could pull a fast one on God. And there was something about this offense that aroused the side of love in God that demands justice. In my mind, the crime doesn't fit the punishment, but that's what I'm learning about my faith in this New Testament reading...it's not about what makes sense "in my mind". As I see the "mind of God" on the pages of His Word I'm struck with how domesticated and tame I've made Him and, thus, my belief system. I have been shocked how uncomfortable I am with this casual read-through of the Bible wanting, at times, to just tone down and calm down Jesus. The demands of pure love seem to bring tension.
When God killed Ananias and Sapphira for their lie, it said that "the whole church was seized with fear". That's not a very popular notion, right? I mean First John says that perfect love casts out fear, right? But in this case, there was an appropriate fear of God that overcame the church. It is a fear that the Bible calls "the terror of the Lord". In fact, the Old Testament says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", meaning that the beginning of living a life based on reality is having a proper fear of the Lord based on his complete "otherness". He is powerful beyond words and if we really knew who he was we would have a sense of awe, respect, reverence, and fear in his presence. To dumb him down just so that we can have a "little buddy in the sky" leads to things like we saw in this story. Jesus isn't our "homeboy". God isn't our grandpa who doles out dried apricots from his lazy-boy at Holiday reunions. He is the Almighty God of the universe, and he is to be feared and loved.
And I don't think Fear and Love are mutually exclusive as we relate to God. The one causes the other and vice versa.
I think "great fear needs to seize the church" again. We have our fill of fun. We have created family-friendly, user-friendly assemblies that don't scare off people or give our children bad dreams. This is not all bad, but I think we could use a healthy dose of fear to fill our churches again causing us to bow down before the Great King giving him the glory due his Name. We toss him around like a rag doll and one day, I fear, the sleeping Giant will awake. When you tickle a dragon, don't be surprised when you're torn asunder.