Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art
Psalm 42:1 - "As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?"
RM: I think this passage really brings out how continually and deeply desperate our hearts naturally are, for being filled with meaning, and beauty, and companionship, and comfort, and adventure. In fact, it's excruciatingly painful when our hearts have nothing inside them to feed on. Just like a stomach that feels pangs when it has nothing in it.
And I think it's actually the person who is really seeking and working hard everyday to not find our satisfaction in the things of this world as his or her first level pursuit of life, though they are so beautiful and glorious and promising as secondary level pursuits, but it's that person who truly is seeking to be satisfied on a first level from only having Jesus, who feels the most schizophrenic and depressed, on a regular basis.
I remember hearing stories about how Luther (and other church history heros) was depressed to the point of being bedridden, which he would feel regularly. Well I now think that this was not some psychosis or physical malady. I now think it is a natural result of a heart that seeks to be satisfied on Christ, and yet is fallen and naturally keeps needing a fresh portion and supply of manna everyday, every hour, and the reality is that we're just not that good yet at maintaining this, because, of course, we're not yet at our final condition, when we will have the capabilities that come with having resurrected and holy hearts and bodies on a new Earth.
Therefore, the Christian life for the moment, as St. Paul says, is not easy. (2nd Tim.4:7 - life is a "fight"; Rom.8:23 - and a "groaning") It's a matter of fighting our souls each morning to let go of the temporal things that are so promising, things we long to latch on to, that seem to be the answer honestly, which we so desperately want from this world. The Christian life is a fight to let go of our trust in these things and to instead fight ourselves to go to what might honestly feel like an empty endeavor, of having to resort to and make due with the person of Jesus, whom we only connect with through these old means of prayer and Scripture and connecting with other believers in sharing, all in order to, like this poor deer in verse 1, get our hearts satisfied with the only thing that can truly satisfy our hearts, which is the power, the beauty, the embrace and the tenderness, and the adventure of the person of Christ, who is with us and living in us through his Spirit.
Let us keep being honest, like this Psalmist, about our deep longing. We deeply long for satisfaction....and comfort.....and beauty....and adventure. ...just like a deer dehydrating to death.
Go to prayer. Go to his Word. Drink. Eat. And be satisfied.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."
RM: What does the word ‘fear’ mean in this verse? The Bible often uses this word to mean wanting someone’s approval. Like when the Bible challenges us not to give in to the “fear of man”(Proverbs 29:25). This doesn’t mean being afraid of people. It means being “awe inspired” by their approval. It means wanting someone’s approval and the Bible is challenging us not to care too much about our reputation and appearance. That's what the phrase “fear of man” means in the Bible. So then, for us to have a “fear” of God, would mean, instead, to have the feeling of wanting to be approved by God and wanting his affection and his love, his fatherly delight in us. This is what Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:15 means when the Holy Spirit brings us to spiritual life and causes us to cry out, “Abba!” This is what the “fear of God” is referring to.
In this passage, Luke records Peter, as Peter is reflecting on all of the implications of God bringing salvation to this Gentile named, Cornelius. Peter is thinking of all the potential future, non-Jewish believers in far away places who will eventually come to salvation. And Peter is realizing in this moment, that anyone, in any non-Jewish country or foreign culture, no matter where or when, can still be just as close to God as any Old Testament Jew ever was, as long as he or she simply LOVES God. That’s what Peter is saying in these words. But he uses the word ‘fears’ God. Why does he use ‘fear’ when he essentially means ‘love’? How does ‘fear’ mean ‘love' and yet something slightly more specific? He uses it because the word ‘Love,’ by itself, can mean something possibly too casual or light for Peter’s meaning; while ‘fear’ clarifies that he means something far deeper, more deeply needed, and more life giving for a person.
So the word ‘fear’, in a sense, means love, but it also carries all of this other meaning of deep dependency as well. So Peter is saying to us in this verse that anyone who wants God’s affection, as your ultimate desire of life, can know that you are in a right and legitimate relationship with God. However, we also know, because of the supporting teaching of the rest of the Bible, that Grace is the only way to truly have this.
The Bible teaches us that without an understanding of Grace, our naturally sinful, “orphan” spirits will always operate in a self-reliant way, to secure happiness in this life. And the human soul has no ability to escape this self-reliant tendency. That is, it doesn’t until God, from the outside, breaks in with this concept of Grace. Every human conscience innately has no way for the human soul to securely trust in God’s approval and affection. We all have a conscience. And, deep down, that conscience knows what our true standing is before a holy God. We simply can’t, naturally, achieve a security strong enough to trust that we have God’s approval. That is, not until we come to see the nuts and bolts of Grace, meaning the basis of God’s free gift of all that Jesus did which now counts for us, without any achievement or deserving on our part, and we see this from the authority of the Bible itself.
Naturally speaking, the human soul has no way to be secure enough to be certain of God’s love. The only basis than can achieve this, is on the basis of this free Grace from God’s own initiative. This he achieved by becoming one of us in order to die the death we should have and live the life we should have. When this basis of Grace finally becomes clear and dawns on us, it resolves this natural, human fear (in the bad sense) of God and sets us free in our psyche to finally relax, securely, and know with certainty that God delights in us and cherishes us. This...and this alone...is what enables us to enjoy God’s affection, without any fear, at the deepest level, which finally satisfies the soul as it was intended. Until Grace brakes in to our psyche and secures us, no true ‘fear’ (in the good sense) of God, in the sense that Peter is referring to, is possible. Hence, the desperate need for humble, local, ordinary people to act as missionaries and share these concepts with the rest of us, so that we can come to know God's love, which produces such a great love FOR God inside of us.
The world needs quiet, normal, humble people to share and explain this hard-to-believe grace from God, with those who have not yet found it. This is what Peter had in view as he reassured these Gentile believers of God’s acceptance and his hope that others would come to know God’s fatherly approval, a beautiful desire the Bible calls 'fear', in the good sense of this word. Amen.