Church of England Diocese of St.Albans St. Peter Bushey Heath

Vicar's letter for July / August

For the Christian it is axiomatic that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God who is known in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Such a relationship goes beyond a knowledge of God as ‘knowledge’ might be understood in the contemporary world. In theory it might be possible for the Modern to understand something of God: his existence, nature and action upon the universe, and yet not to relate to him or consider the divine to be at all his concern. Such an approach and understanding would be impossible in the Biblical world, amongst our Jewish and Christian forbears. For them God could choose to make himself known and did so, but for a creature not to be in some sort of relationship with the Creator would not just be unthinkable, but impossible. God was in a relationship with Man and Man with God, however that might have been understood.

Observing the society in which we live it is clear that many, if not the majority of people, are unaware that they are in any sort of relationship with God and certainly not a personal one as that is understood within the Church. Many of our Western contemporaries not only do not believe in God, but do not know what Christians mean by the word ‘God’. For those of us engaged in pastoral work or evangelism it is important that we understand that. For decades Christians have assumed that the non-believer has some understanding of God and the non-attender at least a modicum of faith. Such was the starting point for the proclamation of the the Gospel for many years, but the assumptions on which that starting point is based are no longer justified. In the West the majority do not believe, do not understand and do not want to know – in fact they are frequently hostile to any suggestion of religion or of its claims.

To begin to understand the background to belief in God and a relationship with him it is helpful to return to the Scriptures and discover what is said there about these things. In particular, it would be of benefit to think a little about the ‘fear of God’ which plays an important part in both the New and Old Testaments. The Ancients understood God as someone completely ‘other’ than themselves and yet as one who revealed himself to them. God was known from the earliest days of pre-history, as recounted in the Bible, but his self-revelation reached a new expression in the revelation to Abram who came to know God and respond to him. Abram, like all those whose piety is considered exemplary, recognised not just the ‘otherness’ of God, but his awe-inspiring grandeur. Similarly with Moses, there was a revelation of God in the theophany of the burning bush which led the prophet to tremble before him. This ‘fear of God’ is a characteristic of subsequent stories and finds one of its most complete expressions in Isaiah’s vision.

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6: 5)

In this episode, despite the unworthiness of the prophet, the holy God cleanses him and commissions him for service. This episode is reflected in the New Testament story of the call of Peter, who recognising power and holiness (otherness) says to Jesus, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ (Luke 5: 8). Note that Peter is kneeling as he makes his plea.

Fear of God is the proper reaction to his presence in the Scriptures, either to a theophany like the burning bush or to a more general awareness of the presence of God and his activity in creation. This reaction, however, is conceived not as a negative, but as a positive because the revelation shows that God is essentially benign. God is beneficent and grants blessings so that subsequent relationships not only contain the due ‘fear of God’, but also confidence and trust. This is seen in the relationship which all the exemplary characters have towards God. Good examples in the Old Testament are found in the era of the judges like Gideon and Samson, in leaders like David, and in the greatest of the prophets like Elijah and Daniel. The reaction to God’s presence for these faithful is one of praise and joy, characteristics found par excellence in Hannah and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Hannah and Mary are particularly good examples of the human response to God. When Man comes into the presence of God (whether this is through a theophany or angelic presence, or through cultic practices like the celebration of the sacraments) and hears the words, ‘fear not’ so that he or she can approach in peace, there are two things going on. The first is that she recognises her unworthiness in an attitude of humility and submission. The second is that the nature of God is recognised and there is a subsequent engagement with God’s will. God’s will at the same time rejects sin and engages the individual in his purpose. Through this process Man is given the opportunity not just to engage with God, but to receive forgiveness, to be renewed in faithfulness and to attain holiness.

The fear of God can be seen as the correct response to him and therefore as something positive. Modern man tends to see it as entirely negative, either because God is not recognised as who he truly is or because Man now sees himself as ‘come of age’ and therefore equal to God. As a footnote it is not unknown for people to refuse to say the Prayer of Humble Access simply because they don’t consider themselves to be unworthy at all. When this and comparable things happen Man is at enmity with God. The same is true when God is not respected as God or not recognised at all. The Church needs to recognise these aspects of modern life in its approach to its work with numerous groups in society from the lapsed to the completely secular. People in all of these groups are failing to recognise God, thus effectively denying his existence and missing out on a personal relationship with him. An awareness of this truth will assist Christians in ministry and mission as they attempt to help men and women to see what is going on around them, what the meaning of life is and how God fits into it.


Pray for grace to proclaim the greatness of God in the present age.

Pray for all those who do not know their need of God.

The complete newsletter may be downloaded below. Please note that the diary section is now out of date due to electrical works taking place in St. Peter's. The current list of services is available on this site in the 'From the diary' section.

July_2021_Newsletter, PDF