When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’ (Exodus 20:18-20)
“Do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” What an amazing – and very human – response to the delivery of the Ten Commandments. God spoke, thunder, lightning, trumpets, smoke created a din and distraction, and the people cowered in fear. We often think that life and faith would be so much easier if we could only hear directly from God. But is that what we really want?
Throughout the centuries, we have developed an image of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God who can bend and shape reality in any fashion desired. We pray to God asking God to do things all the time – from preventing rain on the special occasion, to removing the disease from a loved one, to bringing world peace. There is nothing we believe God cannot do, and so we pray our will seeking to change God’s will.
I am not so sure though, that in our heart of hearts, we would want to meet God face to face and hear what God has to say. If God uses the Gospels as a checklist, the words of the prophets as a scale, and the teachings of Paul as a standard, God might not be thrilled with what God sees.
But fearing God’s wrath and trembling before God’s judgment is not what faith is all about. God doesn’t demand our faithful obedience out of God’s need, but only out of regard for our welfare. We are God’s beloved children, not God’s dancing puppets. God doesn’t give us rules just to punish us when we break them. Jesus worked very hard to correct this thinking and Paul offered a detailed explanation about our relationship to God through Law and Grace (read carefully the Epistle to the Romans from start to finish). Faith-based in fear is not real faith. Real faith transforms and transcends; it lifts us up instead of striking us down. God is interested in us becoming better people so that we all will benefit. The better we are individually, the better we are in community. The better we are in community, the better citizens of state and nation we become. And when the governing principles of goodness and grace become the core values of all, we witness "God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth, as in heaven."
Prayer: God of Law and Commandment, your law is love of you, self, and neighbor, and your commandment is to honor and respect life in all its forms. When we strive faithfully to be your people, we cease from doing harm and we commit to doing good. By your guiding grace and Spirit, the world is transformed and your will is achieved. Work this miracle in us; not through fear, but through unconditional love. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).