God is sovereign. He does as he pleases. This comforts some people—and terrifies others.
If you have lost a child or a spouse, especially in a sudden or unexpected way, “God scares me to death” might sound familiar. If you have had any close brush with death, this might sound familiar too. You are vulnerable. Images of God as protector are now meaningless. Instead, at any moment, the worst possible event could befall you, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It might seem that you have already endured his worst and there is nothing of value left to take, but you know there could be other worsts that you cannot even conceive of. God terrifies you.
You are not only terrified of God. You also continue to believe he loves you and is with you by the Spirit. You still believe that nothing will separate you from him. But there is this new place in your heart: God terrifies you. And it has taken up residence. Meanwhile, the people around you do not seem to be particularly terrified of God. If they are, no one is saying so.
For friends. Let’s acknowledge that we are substandard comforters of those who grieve. We might be attentive for the first week after someone we know well has lost a child, but we assume that everyone then moves on. So, today, reach out and say, “my heart still breaks over the loss of your child.” Men, of which I am one, are especially unskilled at this care, both giving it and receiving it.
Say something. Say something.
For you who have endured great loss. Some words are harder to acknowledge than others. “It still hurts” is easier to say than, “I am undone,” which is easier to say than, “God terrifies me.” The first seems more acceptable, more orthodox, than the last. But others who were identified as righteous have said it before you.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. (Job 23:15–16)
Speak in solidarity with Job. Say these words to the Lord. And, if you have a spouse or anyone who has endured the grief as you have, talk about this together. The greater the suffering, the greater our tendency to turn inward and isolate. With the little faith that you have, speak to the Lord and to that one other person. Hearts can grow hard in isolation, and marriages drift apart after a great loss. Stand in protest of these separations from God and others.
“Why bother?” Here again, I have men especially in view. “What good does talking do?” they say. “It doesn’t change anything. In fact, it just brings up the pain and makes life worse.”
These are hard questions to answer, in part because they are not really questions but are personal commitments to a self-protective, never-be-weak, independent-minded course of life. The psalms show us a different way, and you might feel things you do not want to feel along that way. But it is the best way.
Through it all, you don’t want terror to be a dominating or last word. Instead, the fullness of the triune God has been displayed to us in Jesus Christ. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). Keep turning toward him, whether that process is clumsy, awkward, brief, or a bit chilly. Your soul is close to the breaking point already. The one who now strikes fear in your heart is the only one who can assuage your fears and mend a soul in pieces.