For ongoing education and spiritual growth, I am always reading. One of the books I am currently reading is Peter Kreeft’s Angels and Demons. As most of you know, I have often expressed concern that angels have been sentimentalized and even trivialized. Most people’s conception of angels is far from what the Bible describes! If you have read Peter Kreeft, you know that very few people can express things as well as he does. Thus I would like to give you a quote from his book wherein he masterfully and succinctly describes the tendency to eviscerate Holy Fear from “modern religion.” I will comment a little bit at the end.
All the current angel books seem to assume the angels are comforting. Yet almost every time a real angel appears in the Bible, he has to say “Fear not!” …
Religious fear, or awe, is an essential ingredient of all true religion, yet it has been systematically exiled from modern, “psychologically correct” religion … The thing the Bible calls “the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7, 4:7, 9:10; Wis 6:17; Sirach 1:14) is the experience modern religious educators and liturgists deliberately remove or try to remove from our souls: fear and trembling, adoration and worship, the bending of the knee, the prone heart. The modern God is “something I can feel comfortable with.” The God of the Bible, in contrast, is “a consuming fire” (Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 12:29).
Angels are closer to God, and something of his fiery fearsomeness rubs off on them. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, when told by a student that it must be gratifying to spend his life amid “the comforts of religion” replied, “God is not an uncle. God is not nice. God is an earthquake.” The same applies to God’s angels.
Of course God and his angels are good. But “good” does not mean “comfortable.” … And of course fear does not mean craven fear or fear of an evil tyrant. It means awe …
Angels always do us good. They warn, rescue, guide, and enlighten. So the end result is indeed comforting. But not at first. True religion never begins in comfort. It begins in repentance and humility and fear (Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons pp 33-34).
This quote is a keeper. And on a personal note, I want to add that God has been good and merciful to me. Yet he has not always “comforted” me, since that was sometimes not what I needed.
In recent years I have begun to experience deeper and deeper contemplative prayer. But I know well that it took a lot of purgation by God to bring me to such a place, and that purgation was neither easy nor comforting. Indeed, my first experiences with deep prayer came in the midst of one of the greatest crisises of my life, during my mid-thirties. Thus Dr. Kreeft’s final point that the result is comforting, but not at first, has surely been true for me and for most people I know who have made a true spiritual journey.
Please beware of the false repackaging of true faith, the kind that Dr. Kreeft rebukes here. Reverence God and His angels. Know that they do us good and bring us comfort, but not always on our terms or schedule. Let God be God. A fake, modernized god cannot save. Only the True God, the God who reveals Himself in Scripture, on His terms (whether we like them or not) can save us.
Let God be true though every man be false! (Romans 3:4)