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It was the biggest black bear I had ever seen!

I was trying to keep in shape for a mountain hiking expedition I would be doing in a few months. We were on vacation in Buena Vista, Colorado. I knew of a dirt road up the mountain and through the woods that was at just the right incline to be strenuous but not too much so. It was also at an elevation that would challenge my lungs quite nicely. It was somewhat off of the beaten path and was a few miles long. It was perfect for my workout.

In Boulder, Colorado where I lived at the time, my exercise was limited to running up and down my basement stairs several dozen times. It worked as a climbing exercise, but as you might expect, the scenery was somewhat boring. I was excited to be able to run amidst the aspens and the junipers.

I got up early before the family woke up, slipped out of the house and drove up the mountain to my destination. I found a parking spot near the bottom of the road and began my trek upward at a pace that was perfect for my workout.

I was only a few hundred yards up the road when I saw some movement in an opening in the woods ahead and to my right. I thought, awesome, maybe it is an elk. I love to see elk in the wild. They are almost as big as horses, and twice as majestic.

I proceeded cautiously, but as I rounded a bend in the road I could see that whatever it was, it was much darker than an elk and certainly didn’t stand as tall. It was about fifty yards away from me and it looked very black. And then its identity became clear. It was a bear, a very large black bear. At the same time I saw it clearly, it saw me; and stood up on its back legs to get a better look at whatever intruder had entered its space.

I have seen many black bears over the years in the wild. I’ve seen 100 pound black bears. I’ve seen 200 pound black bears. I’ve seen 300 pound black bears, and I once saw a 400 pound black bear. But this one was bigger than all of them.

He stood fully facing me for about five seconds. He looked to be standing about seven feet tall and appeared as wide as a refrigerator. When he saw that I was a human, he dropped to the ground, lumbered up the hill behind him and disappeared over the ridge.

When he was gone I became aware of my state of being and realized my heart was beating about three times faster than normal, and I was shaking like a leaf. My first thought was to run as fast as I could back to my car. But mingled with my shock must have been better sense because I was aware that when the beast ran over the ridge behind him, he was actually moving in the general direction of my car.

Finally, I began searching frantically for a stick large enough to club a bear but small enough to carry easily. Concluding that it was wiser to move away from the animal, I continued up the road, only this time at a little faster clip. As I moved I started hitting trees along the road with the stick to scare off any other bears that might be in the woods, and did a pirouette every ten yards or so all the rest of the way up the hill to make sure “not so Gentle Ben” wasn’t on my trail.

When I reached the end of the road, I waited several minutes before I began my descent back down to my car. And all the way back I kept hitting the trees with my stick and shouted sounds that I hoped would scare off any animals that may be along the way. When I got into the driver’s seat, I breathed a sigh of relief.

When later I took note of my terrified condition, I realized I was both afraid and in awesome respect of the big black creature I had the unique privilege of seeing in the woods that early morning in the Colorado Mountains. It wasn’t the same as the fear and awe I have for God. But it was close.

I have often described fear of God to people I lead, not as terror, but as awe and respect of Him. But I have come to believe that there should also be an element of genuine fear in our hearts for God as well; not terror of him, but a fear of His power, a fear of His sovereignty, a fear of His inerrant nature. But I think the thing that I have come to fear the most about God is His holiness. I fear it most because, from my studies and experience, I know God is incapable of an unholy, unrighteous and unloving decision. Therefore, His decision to allow anyone to enter the afterlife in the “downward” direction is a perfectly righteous and holy decision. That fact should cause all of us to fear God.

Many people adopt the perspective about God contained in the question…

“How could a God of love send people to hell?”  It is the wrong question. The right question is…

“Since God by His nature is incapable of unholy, unloving and unrighteous decisions, why am I not in reverent awe and fear of Him?”

We fear murderers, but do you fear God? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him (God) who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in hell.” -Matthew 10:28

I’ll be sticking to the basement stairs from now on.

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