Years ago my nephew Drew gave me The Pop-Up Book of Phobias as a Christmas gift.  Although it is just the kind of thing I enjoy, I don’t look at it much – it is SO SCARRY! The frightening pictures pop out at you, and nothing prepares you for the horrors leaping at your face. The first page covers dentophobia (fear of dentists), and when you turn the page a dental drill pierces your personal space. The same kind of thing happens on the ophidiophobia page (fear of snakes) with a king cobra. The most creative page is the acrophobia page (fear of heights). You open it and find yourself looking over the ledge of a high skyscraper. The most frightening to me, the one that always produces nightmares is the coulrophobia page (fear of clowns). The sinister clowns (are there any other kind?) on this page are so menacing they make the clown in Stephen King’s It look like a Teletubby.

               I am afraid of snakes (a little), and clowns (a lot), and at 55 I find myself becoming wary of heights. I still brave the dentist two or three times a year, and laugh cavalierly when I sit in his chair – so I still have that going for me.

               David’s great fear was atertheophobia – a fear of losing God’s presence (that is a real word – I just coined it). God’s presence was the sole source of his confidence from his youth on.  As a boy, when he was unafraid to fight the giant, Goliath, he explains the source of his courage:

When a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and attacked him, and rescued the lamb from his mouth. When he rose up against me I seized him by his fur and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them….The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.   I Samuel 17.34-37

               As a boy alone in the open countryside, protecting his few sheep, and faced with aggressive predators, David understood he was not alone. At a very early age he understood the blessing of God’s presence. This inner-conviction, which was marrow-deep, is expressed in Psalm 23. In this hymn David is himself the lamb, and God is the ever-watchful shepherd.

               David also knew, early on, the effects of the absence of God – he was an eyewitness to what happened when Saul was separated from God’s presence. The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him (I Samuel 16.14). Because of David’s reputation as a musician he was brought in to sooth Saul. Whenever the evil spirit from God came David would take the harp and play it, and Saul would become refreshed and well, and the evil spirit would depart from him (I Samuel 16.23). The youthful David saw with his own eyes what happens to a man separated from the presence of God – it must have been frightening.

               So when David was caught in the web of sin he created by taking Bathsheba, his great fear was that he would lose the presence of God, just as Saul had.

               David’s prayer of repentance is recorded in Psalm 51. It was a public repentance, because it was sent to the “choir director”. In this prayer-song David did not plead to keep his throne, his life, his position, his wealth, or even his dignity. His asked for one thing – God’s continued presence.

Do not cast me away from your presence. Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me. Psalm 51.11

               When we repent, when we pray, what are we most concerned about? Avoiding consequences? Saving face? Escaping pain? Or do we care most about being right with God when we stand in His presence? A dose of atertheophobia might be a healthy thing for us all.

                                                                                                                        - Barry Bryson

Atertheophobia

               Years ago my nephew Drew gave me The Pop-Up Book of Phobias as a Christmas gift.  Although it is just the kind of thing I enjoy, I don’t look at it much – it is SO SCARRY! The frightening pictures pop out at you, and nothing prepares you for the horrors leaping at your face. The first page covers dentophobia (fear of dentists), and when you turn the page a dental drill pierces your personal space. The same kind of thing happens on the ophidiophobia page (fear of snakes) with a king cobra. The most creative page is the acrophobia page (fear of heights). You open it and find yourself looking over the ledge of a high skyscraper. The most frightening to me, the one that always produces nightmares is the coulrophobia page (fear of clowns). The sinister clowns (are there any other kind?) on this page are so menacing they make the clown in Stephen King’s It look like a Teletubby.

               I am afraid of snakes (a little), and clowns (a lot), and at 55 I find myself becoming wary of heights. I still brave the dentist two or three times a year, and laugh cavalierly when I sit in his chair – so I still have that going for me.

               David’s great fear was atertheophobia – a fear of losing God’s presence (that is a real word – I just coined it). God’s presence was the sole source of his confidence from his youth on.  As a boy, when he was unafraid to fight the giant, Goliath, he explains the source of his courage:

When a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and attacked him, and rescued the lamb from his mouth. When he rose up against me I seized him by his fur and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them….The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.   I Samuel 17.34-37

               As a boy alone in the open countryside, protecting his few sheep, and faced with aggressive predators, David understood he was not alone. At a very early age he understood the blessing of God’s presence. This inner-conviction, which was marrow-deep, is expressed in Psalm 23. In this hymn David is himself the lamb, and God is the ever-watchful shepherd.

               David also knew, early on, the effects of the absence of God – he was an eyewitness to what happened when Saul was separated from God’s presence. The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him (I Samuel 16.14). Because of David’s reputation as a musician he was brought in to sooth Saul. Whenever the evil spirit from God came David would take the harp and play it, and Saul would become refreshed and well, and the evil spirit would depart from him (I Samuel 16.23). The youthful David saw with his own eyes what happens to a man separated from the presence of God – it must have been frightening.

               So when David was caught in the web of sin he created by taking Bathsheba, his great fear was that he would lose the presence of God, just as Saul had.

               David’s prayer of repentance is recorded in Psalm 51. It was a public repentance, because it was sent to the “choir director”. In this prayer-song David did not plead to keep his throne, his life, his position, his wealth, or even his dignity. His asked for one thing – God’s continued presence.

Do not cast me away from your presence. Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me. Psalm 51.11

               When we repent, when we pray, what are we most concerned about? Avoiding consequences? Saving face? Escaping pain? Or do we care most about being right with God when we stand in His presence? A dose of atertheophobia might be a healthy thing for us all.

                                                                                                                        - Barry Bryson

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