George MacDonald on Fear of the Lord

George MacDonald was a nineteenth century dissenting Protestant who wrote amazing fiction.  People like Chesterton and C.S. Lewis attribute their conversions to his stories.  The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel, The Princess and Curdie are among the best fairy stories I’ve come across – and the great fairy story writers, like Tolkien, agree.  I do not know how to write a short sufficient recommendation of At the Back of the North Wind.  It is extraordinary.

In an idle moment, I recently pulled off the shelf C.S. Lewis’s book on George MacDonald.  I did not realize it’s an anthology, mostly snippets from MacDonald’s preaching.  Lewis’s praise is superlative: “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”  I am eager to read the other fantasies Lewis recommends: Phantastes (which Lewis says made his conversion), The Golden Key (with pictures by Maurice Sendak!), The Wise Woman, and Lilith.

Well, I’ve only read – slowly – the first couple passages in this anthology, but they are exquisite, and mostly focused on a topic I love but have had a hard time expressing, fear of the Lord.  Here are a few splendid snippets:

When we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?  No.  As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. . . .  The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.

For that which cannot be shaken shall remain.  That which is immortal in God shall remain in man.  The death that is in them shall be consumed.  It is the law of Nature—that is, the law of God—that all that is destructible shall be destroyed.

 

The man whose deeds are evil, fears the burning.  But the burning will not come the less that he fears it or denies it.  Escape is hopeless.  For Love is inexorable.  Our God is a consuming fire.  He shall not come out till he has paid the uttermost farthing.

 

And is not God ready to do unto them even as they fear, though with another feeling and a different end from any which they are capable of supposing?  He is against sin: insofar as, and while, they and sin are one, He is against them—against their desires, their aims, their fears, and their hopes; and thus He is altogether always for them.  That thunder and lightning and tempest, that blackness torn with the sound of a trumpet, that visible horror billowed with the voice of words, was all but a faint image . . . of what God thinks and feels against vileness and selfishness, of the unrest of unassuageable repulsion with which He regards such conditions.

 

Can it be any comfort to them to be told that God loves them so that He will burn them clean? . . . They do not want to be clean, and they cannot bear to be tortured.

 

How should the Hebrews be other than terrified at that which was opposed to all they knew of themselves, beings judging it good to honor a golden calf?  Such as they were, they did well to be afraid. . . .  Fear is nobler than sensuality.  Fear is better than no God, better than a god made with hands. . . . The worship of fear is true, although very low: and though not acceptable to God in itself, for only the worship of spirit and of truth is acceptable to Him, yet even in his sight it is precious.  For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be; not as they shall be merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them, that they might grow to it.  Therefore a thousand stages, each in itself all but valueless, are of inestimable worth as the necessary and connected gradations of an infinite progress.  A condition which of declension [that is, downward movement] would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint.

 

He will shake heaven and earth, that only the unshakable may remain: he is a consuming fire, that only that which cannot be consumed may stand forth eternal.  It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our worship.  He will have purity.  It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus; yeah, [it] will go on burning within us after all that is foreign to it has yielded to its force, no longer with pain and consuming, but as the highest consciousness of life, the presence of God.

 

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