31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
One verse, coming at the end of both remonstrance and reassurance. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is here summing up his approach to Holy living. Like Jesus, like Paul, this author assures that the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficient; he also warns that spurning this wonderful gift, even after full knowledge of it is offered, entails full judgment. We are faced, of course, with the question of grace. Where is the Divine grace, that outpouring, prodigal love of God for all of humanity, if it is turned away so easily, by mere human rejection? Because the author, like Jesus and Paul, is steeped in the Jewish Scriptures of the time, and sees little excuse in a claim either of ignorance or apathy. The clarity of the offer of God's love and care has always been there. We stand before not just a God of love, but a God of justice as well.
It is, indeed, a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. I sometimes think we forget that in our myriad attempts to shrink God down to fit whatever agenda we may have. That line from Bonhoeffer still echoes in my mind, and it resonates now - "When God calls a man, He bid him come and die" - as I think on this single verse from Hebrews. God is, indeed, love. God is, indeed, the God who comforts the mourners, lifts up the weak, stands with those who stand for others oppressed and trodden down by the powers and principalities that rule this world, spiritual and temporal. Yet, this is also the God who did not keep his own Son from dying, rejected and alone, outside the city gates, the Divine Fatherly face turned away. God is wonderful, loving and tender to be sure, but also terrible. The path upon which we trod is watered with the tears and blood of so many who have gone before us, stricken by a world that not only does not know this God who created it, but does not want the loving care this God offers, and will go out of its way to destroy all those emissaries from God who offer restoration in love.
The call of the world to ease and comfort, to reject the nonsense of death and resurrection, of crosses and spears and sponges of vinegar; even the call to reject love as it really is, in all its pain and wonder and mystery, for the simplicity of childhood revelries and romantic nonsense and sexual passion, reminds us that the love of God is the love that leads to life, it is true. But it is also the love that calls us to our deaths, to ourselves, to our own desires (including our physical and simplistic emotional desires), and that always feels like death, doesn't it?
It is, indeed, a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, because this is neither the good guy/bad guy God of childhood, nor is it the God of romantic reassurance, or bourgeois comfort, or American patriotism (I suppose one could insert most countries names in there, if you wish). This is the living God who created the Universe, who sent his Son to die, and calls us in love, but also to understand the implications of this call. We are called to serve in a world where service is held in contempt, and the love of God - real love which is always about living outside oneself - is rejected. We are called, in other words, to die, in many little ways, and sometimes in the only way that matters. The promise of Divine Presence brings us hope that this death is not in vain; the assurance in faith of the nearness of God in our mourning does not make it any less mourning.
We are dealing here with the mystery that is the path of the Christian - a path of peace, of love, of gentleness, patience, self-control, in a world where all those things are demeaned, belittled, subject to scorn and ridicule. The way is straight, and the gate is narrow, and when we enter that door, we are entering in to a new reality - one of love, where simple Presence can be enough, to be sure - where we are no longer the subject of our own lives. Indeed, we are called to hate our own lives. In the name of the Love of the living God.