We close the week with an email today from a long time listener, named Pete Spradley. Pete writes in to say this: “I have now listened to every John Piper sermon on desiringGod.org” — wow, that’s quite an achievement! — “and I don’t think I have heard my question answered. Pastor John, will we continue to fear God and tremble before him in our perfect glorified state in heaven?”
Well, I don’t know if he had heard the answer to that question either, because I can’t remember whether I ever talked about it. Maybe not. It is a good question. I think to answer the question carefully, we have to ask what trembling actually is.
The first thing it is, is the movement of the body. So, the muscles are quivering and, today in our scientific age, we would say the nerves are active in an increased way, owing to some kind of chemical stimulus. So, in and of itself, trembling is morally neutral. It is neither a virtue nor a vice. The motion of irrational, inanimate matter like muscle cannot be described as virtuous or morally evil. But trembling takes on moral dimensions when it is the overflow of certain spiritual emotions or affections that are either good or evil.
“When the body trembles at something good in hope, it does not diminish the joy of the experience, but intensifies it.”
So, we may be trembling because we are about to be caught red-handed doing something evil. Or, we may be trembling because we can hardly contain ourselves with excitement that the husband who has been away at war for two years is about to walk off that plane into his wife’s arms. In other words, trembling may be the bodily overflow of something sinful or something good. And my guess is that the participation of the body by trembling in something very good and very hopeful does not diminish the joy of the experience, but intensifies it. That may not always be the case, but it seems to me sometimes surely that is the case.
All of that to say that trembling in and of itself is not something we might want to exclude from our glorified state in the age to come. The question boils down to whether or not God will design our glorified, resurrection bodies in such a way that trembling attaches to the experience of joy so as to intensify it.
Now, how might we answer that question? Might God do that? Or, should we expect him to do that? And one way to answer the question would be to examine whether trembling in the Bible is always attached to terror and is only negative. And that is clearly not the case as we survey the Scriptures. Several texts mention trembling precisely in connection with good experiences of God, not bad experiences of God. So, for example:
- Psalm 114:7–8 says, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.” Well, what an occasion for trembling!
- Or Psalm 96:9, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” Splendor, holiness.
- Or Isaiah 66:1–2, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made’” — in other words, I am the great Creator of all things — “‘and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’” as I am revealed as the Creator of all things.
- Or Philippians 2:12–13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” There is nothing negative about that at all. There is nothing terrifying about that at all, except God is in us. Like what? What? The Creator of the universe is at work in you. [HAHA--AMAZING] If you believe that, if you really believe that, fear and trembling would be a wonderful response, even if you thought he were the most kind, loving, galactic power in the universe.
“If God knows that trembling in the glorified body will intensify our enjoyment of him, he will give it to us.”
So, my conclusion would be that we have little reason to think or desire that trembling before God in our glorified, resurrection bodies would be excluded — little, little reason to think they should be, little desire. Why should we desire that trembling would be excluded? Perhaps the safest thing to say is if God knows that the physical experience of trembling in the glorified body will increase and intensify our enjoyment of him and all that he does and all he makes, he will see to it that we are capable of such a wonderful trembling.
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