The Fear and Comfort of One God: May It Be So

Psalm 90:11-17

If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

“Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due”. YIKES. It seems a little easier to delve into the later lines, lines of desires and needs and petitions that we can readily relate to, but the first two sentences keep calling to me.

Many of us today prefer to think of our God as all-loving and benevolent, so what a statement this is—fear of God’s ultimate anger. It’s uncomfortable to me. Because of it, the rest of the selection seems more along the lines of an oppressed and fearful servant pleading for mercy and reprieve from their aggressive master. It even says: “have compassion on your servants” and “make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us.” This passage paints such a different picture of God than we usually imagine.

What does this have to teach us? This fearsome and angry God who has afflicted these poor people who seem to only want respite? It’s almost a villainous picture, except for when they ask for God’s Love.

It dawned on me as I was imagining an answer that these are a people who are coming to know God. They are happening upon One God as if cresting a hill and witnessing a sunrise. And how terrifying! They are beginning to grapple with the fact that humanity is not the end-all, be-all; that we humans are not the beginning and the end; that there is something within us and around us that begins and ends in and of itself, which is perhaps the Only Thing. They are realizing that we are simply in the service of this One energy.

Can you imagine? The moments in history where people began to realize their inferiority, and intimate connection, with a One God? And then start to ask the big questions—about suffering that has befallen them, about all kinds of strife, about purpose, about what has been and what will be. Naturally, there is great fear around this. What immense, absolute power this God Force has!

Wouldn’t that be frightening? The lines that follow, however, start to seem wonderful if we imagine them in this context. They surrender to the knowledge of this dependency and servitude, and despite the fear of this force which must have caused all things good and bad, the authors throw themselves into the confidence that ultimate Love is also possible from this new God. They ask for sustenance and unfailing love, celebrating the possibility of union with God, of relationship with God, with favor of God, if only they ask!

In Judaism, one of my favorites lines is “Adonai Echad”- The Lord is One. After reading this, I pray that I too may be awed by the realization of the One. The Lord is One, All, Everything, and sometimes, that may be terrifying.

Here’s a prayer for today:

Lord, grant me the excitement to celebrate my potential union with You. Grant me the grace to ask for this union with You. And grant me the humility to put my heart into the service of Your Powerful Oneness, even in mystery or in fear. Amen.

This devotional was written by Immanuel’s Music Assistant for Children and Youth, Sarah Sherman.