The Philistines had a choice to make. They had witnessed the sobering, numbing power of God. The statue of Dagon, their false god, had fallen face first before the ark of the Lord and broken into pieces. The message was clear: All will bow to the one true God, and nothing will stand before Him. Faced with this reality, the Philistines had to decide what they would do with this God. Their answer was to send the ark away out of fear instead of turning to the Lord in repentance.
God’s power and holiness is indeed a barrier between sinful humanity and Himself; the Philistines were able to recognize this. But what they failed to understand was that God’s desire is not for His holiness to drive people away from Him but toward Him. Yes, our sin has created an uncrossable barrier between us, but it is only uncrossable from our side. He has made a way—the way—in Christ for us to be forgiven of our sin so that we no longer need to recoil in fear before His holiness. The ark was God’s reminder that He was making a way for people to be restored to relationship with Him through His coming to humanity, not the other way around.
As Christians, how should we balance a proper healthy fear of holy God with knowing God is our loving Father who accepts us entirely in Christ?