“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die’”.
Ex 20:18, 19 NIV
In the religion and worship we engage in today there is little sense of “fearing God”. Some of those who lead worship go to great lengths to make it as informal as possible. Joking and laughing have replaced the sense of awe and reverence that once was normal.
The giving of the law at Sinai and the enactment of the covenant was the most significant event, along with the exodus itself, in the whole history of the Israelite people. Here God drew near to them, and all manner of physical signs are recorded as having taken place – thunder and lightning, smoke, the noise of trumpets, and fire. The people felt that letting Moses meet with God and communicate with him was as far as they could, and should go. They had a great sense of the transcendence (otherness) of God. And they knew he was holy – and they weren’t.
Often in great cathedrals in Europe and elsewhere, visitors will whisper. That is a sign that they acquire a feeling of awe, a sense that they are in the presence of God. There is nothing wrong with this, and much of our worship would be enhanced and deepened if we re-captured some measure of the awesomeness and transcendence of God.
My God, how wonderful thou art, Thy majesty how bright!
How beautiful thy mercy-seat In depths of burning light!
O how I fear thee, living God, With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with trembling hope And penitential tears!