“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

– Philippians 2.12b-13

I don’t know what it means to fear God. I know that, archaically, fear simply means deep reverence. But, I don’t think this is all that Paul is talking about, since he adds the ominous word trembling to this command, linking the two together. Fear and trembling. This, at least it seems to me, implies much more than a deep reverence, it seems to imply unease or dread.

Perhaps we ought to be a bit more uneasy around our God. In today’s circles, God is often immanent: he is close and friendly and always smiling. I think of those figurines for the high-fiving Jesus, which are a joke, yet are true of our conceptions, oftentimes: God is a loyal friend just waiting to give you a pat on the back. This, of course, is true. God is intimately close, and his love for us is infinite.

He also, however, is transcendent. This transcendent God created the whole universe with his words, he led Israel out of Egypt as a pillar of fire, he drove sellers out of the temple with a whip. This God is not the pat-me-on-the-back God but a I’m-a-little-scared-of-you God; he is a God who is all powerful and, often, unpredictable. He is a God who shatters the image that we have of him so that we can form a bigger and truer image, and then he repeats the process. He is, as C.S. Lewis wrote “not safe. But he’s good.”

This is our God. And I bring up for discussion: how do we come to Him this week? How do we work out this salvation, while allowing Him to work in us? How has God broken that image that you have of him and enlarged it; how does an intimate and loving God both keep us close and grow us through hard circumstances — through times of fear and trembling?