Do Not Be Afraid
We must know that for most of human history God was not a likable, much less a lovable character. That’s why every ‘theophany’ in the Bible (an event where God breaks through into history) begins with the same words, ‘Do not be afraid!’ It is the most common one-liner in the Bible. Wherever an angel or God breaks into human life, the first words are invariably, ‘Do not be afraid.’ Why? Because people have always been afraid of God — and afraid of themselves, as a result. God was not usually ‘nice,’ and we were not too sure about ourselves either.
When God appeared on the scene, it was not felt to be good news by most people: it was bad news. The sense was, ‘Who has to die now? Who’s going to be punished now? What is the price I will have to pay for this?’ Most people do not realize that humanity did not, by and large, expect love from God before the Biblical revelation. Yet even today most humans feel that God’s love and attention must be earned, and then we deeply resent that process, just as we do with our parents. (I know no other way to explain the overwhelmingly passive and even passive-aggressive nature of many churchgoers.)
This pattern of expectation and fear is so in the hardwiring that in the two thousand years since the incarnation of God in Christ, not much has really changed — except in a rather small critical mass of humanity. Most people in my experience are still into fearing God and controlling God instead of loving God. They never really knew it was possible, given the power equation. When one party has all the power — which is most people’s very definition of God — all you can do is fear and try to control.
The only way that can be changed is for God, from God’s side, to change the power equation and invite us into a world of mutuality and vulnerability.
Our living image of that power change is called Jesus! In him, God took the initiative to overcome our fear, our need to manipulate God and made honest divine relationship possible. This unthinkable relationship is already planted in human consciousness with the Jewish idea of ‘covenant love.’