It is the Second Sunday in Lent and with this post I have finally caught up and gotten back on track. Accept my apologies for being late in my postings the last couple of days.
In today’s Old Testament lesson at my church, we read Genesis 15: 1-18. It is the place where God promises Abram an heir from his own loins and tells him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The covenant is sealed by an offering made up of three-year-old animals. The reader was using the New King James and verse 12 said:
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Genesis 15:12
My mind immediately focussed on one word in that passage: horror. The English Standard Version translates the word dreadful. When I got home I looked the word up in Strongs and then used its number to find the entry in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. It means dread, fear, horror, terrible, terror. The emphasis is always on fear.
Abram is about to encounter the LORD and his immediate companion is horror, dread, great fear. This is reminiscent of Hebrews 10:31 (It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God). Abram had first-hand knowledge of that experience. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s presence induces overwhelmingly similar responses: fear, dread, horror, terror. Yet, at the same time, he is our loving Father, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
This, for me, is where agape, the sacrificial love of God comes to the fore. The absolute holy and all encompassing presence of God would utterly undo any descendant of Adam, because we are all tainted by the fall. Death, the old man who resides within us all, cowers back from even the smallest bit of the brightness of the holiness of God. Yet, by the exercise of his agape, God our Father embraces our new creation, the new man also within us, and while we feel horror, we also feel hope.
Abram believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. While his old man was overcome with horror, that righteousness found the new man waiting to be born upon the cross of Christ, and the agape of God embraced him and renamed him Abraham.
In many ways it is the same with us. Our old man, the sin that so easily besets us (Romans 7:7-25), cowers in horror from the approach of our Heavenly Father. The new creation within us, however, seeks to boldly approach the Throne of Grace, to come into the Father’s presence. Preserved and drawn by agape, we seek our ground of being, the One with whom we have to do.
It is in this moment that the sacrifice of God and our sacrifice of who we were for who we are meet. The great fire of sanctification begins its inexorable work and the dross, the wood, hay, and stubble begins to be burnt away. If, as Paul says, we persevere to the end, we will be stripped of all that hinders us and we will pass through the narrow gate, cleansed and purified, into the presence of our Father God, all the while supported and protected by the agape of He who loves us.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart, your mind, and all that is the you you are meant to be, in the knowledge of your salvation in Christ Jesus, in the eternal agape of God.