LO, HE COMES
One day, years ago, I came within punching distance of legendary Canadian boxer George Chuvalo. A craggy mountain of a man, Chuvalo fought the best of his time, including Muhammad Ali. He rarely lost--was never even knocked off his feet. And one sunny spring day he brushed past me on a Toronto side street. There he was! George Chuvalo! I wanted to say, "Hi, champ!" But I was startled, and a little awestruck. The words just would not come. And in seconds, he was gone.
It may sound peculiar to say I felt dreadful, but in a small way I did. That's one of those words we have misapplied to the point where it has lost its original intent. Dreadful! Today we use it to berate what seems offensive or ridiculous. Like, "Wasn't that a dreadful outfit Mabel was wearing!" But that is not what the word means. It describes something that causes one to be full of dread--nervous and apprehensive, anxious and fearful.
Have you ever been tongue-tied when suddenly face to face with a celebrity? A sports hero? A famous entertainer? A member of the royal family? Before the fact, we can imagine all the witty and clever things we'd say if we met. And afterward, we think of what we wished we'd said. But at the moment, we are struck dumb. Or we babble and stutter, and nothing seems to come out right. It is a kind of fear. We are afraid, not that they will harm us. But afraid of saying the wrong thing, of not behaving appropriately. Magnify that a thousand times and you may have a small inkling of what it will feel like to stand before the Lord of the universe in all His majesty.
Sometimes, in a well-intentioned attempt to make Almighty God more accessible, we diminish His majesty. The Bible does not do that. When God appeared on Mount Sinai to give His Law to Israel we read, "All the people who were in the camp trembled" (Exod.19:16). The psalmist tells us that is appropriate, saying, "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord" (Ps. 114:7). Charles Wesley (1707-1788) understood that. In 1758 Wesley adapted a poem written a few years earlier by another author, and produced "Lo! He Comes."
A song about Christ's return, it begins, "Lo! He comes, with clouds descending, / Once for our salvation slain; / Thousand thousand saints attending, / Swell the triumph of His train." Later comes this line: "Every eye shall now behold Him, robed in dreadful majesty." Properly understood, dreadful majesty presents a powerful image. There will be no casual banter then. No sophisticated chatter. The Apostle John, confronted by the glorified Son of God in his apocalyptic vision, says, "His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead" (Rev. 1:16-17). As Christians, we tend to think of Christ's return as a time of triumphant joy, of singing and celebration. It will be. But there will be tears as well (Rev. 21:4).
"Behold, He is coming with clouds," says John, "and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him" (Rev. 1:7). They who pierced Him? Who is that? The Jews who cried for His execution? The Romans who carried it out? Yes. But behind all that, whose sins put Him there? Yours and mine (I Pet. 3:18). We had a part in that terrible event, as surely as if we wielded the hammer that drove home each iron spike. Ah, there will be mourning in that day. There will be lamentation. Welling tears of sorrow will mark our dread-filled awareness of what our sins have done. Before the singing will come the sound of fearful weeping, in the presence of a glorious majesty so infinitely great.