The question came to Michael Scott, district manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton and sage of The Office: “Would you rather be feared or loved?” After reflection, Michael answered: “Both. I want you to be afraid of how much you love me.”
So true, Michael. But that launches me into a reflection of the same question to God—Do You want to be feared or loved? Not that God would have the same response as Steve Carrell, but you can’t escape from Scripture that His answer would be both as well, though with a different explanation.
I think God does want both, but biblical fear seems to me to be more of a respect, a recognition of just who it is we’re dealing with. It’s fascinating to me how these aspects of intimacy and distance are reflected in the architecture of churches throughout history. Take Gothic cathedrals for instance. There’s stained glass windows. Ceilings are very high. Everything is impressive. Clearly the point the builders were trying to emphasize was the “other-ness” of God, His holiness, His separateness. Fast forward to the Reformation driven churches. You get some of the same themes, but center stage is the pulpit. The emphasis here is on the centrality of the preaching of the Bible. It is our authority.
Fast forward again to the architecture of many postmodern church structures and you get a room that looks more like a theater. The seats wrap around. There is no longer any pulpit, and usually no crosses in the room. The new emphasis is on intimacy, with the preacher and with God, that everyone is close and unhindered.
Who’s right? The answer is yes. It seems as though there is meant to be a mysterious duality in our relationship with God. We are close, closer than children, because of the death of Jesus, but we are still mysteriously at some distance because of our humanity. We are meant to be intimately in love with God, and yet retain the respect inspired by the cathedrals. Maybe this Valentine’s season we can reflect a little bit on both aspects, figuring out where we tend to lean and why. Perhaps for the mature Christ-follower the pendulum swings both ways, eventually ending up in the middle. Love and fear. Fear and love.