If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? That’s a gem everyone has heard at least once in their lives. Rhetorically, I hope. The answer is obvious–“Heck no!” Because we’d be crazy to leap to our deaths. We fear death.
For some reason, though, Christians want to re-define “fear” when it comes to fearing God. I’ve heard it said that the fear of the Lord is “reverential awe.” Which is fancy for saying, “really amazed.”
Some believe that at His return, the world will tremble in fear–or amazement– at the goodness of God. It’s a nice thought, but the Bible doesn’t support that view.
I won’t get into a deep study of all the uses of fear in the Bible, but the Greek word (NT) is phobos or phobeo. Not too hard to see where we get our word phobia or phobic. In Hebrew the word was yira, or mora. Regardless of the language, the words convey an emotional response ranging from unease to stark terror, or trembling reverence. Context around verses provides whether it is someone “striking terror” or someone “filled with dread,” or someone “falling on their face in fear.”
One thing is certain, if we experienced any of the fear associated with God, we wouldn’t be talking about it in a den with cups of joe.
Here’s something interesting, though. In doing this word study I found that the Old Testament was filled with “fearing God.” God asserts His omnipotence and men are taught their place in Creation. I’m brushing with broad strokes here.
When we get to the New Testament, there are more verses telling us to “fear not.”
Those opposed to the whole “fear thing” might be cheering and high-fiving right now. But not so fast.
Those verses are correcting God’s people’s view of fear. Since the whole Bible is good for instruction, reproof and godliness, we need to take it as a whole. We tend to fear things in this world. We fear the unknown. We fear dark corners, under our beds, or the lump of monster that’s slithering from our closet at night. We fear a bad review at work. We fear sickness or car repair costs.
Yet God tells us not to fear for what we should wear, or what we will eat, or where we will live. God knows our needs!
Yet, we’re also told to fear the one who has power over not only our body, but also our souls! We are reminded in Hebrews that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Paul tells us in Philippians to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
We should fear … but we should fear rightly. If you make a practice of sinning, you should fear (but you probably don’t). If you have turned from a life of sin, accepting God’s grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, you should NOT fear condemnation, or death. Rather, we should fear offending God’s love for us.
To use a simple, yet relatable example, imagine a husband is out with the guys. He’s having fun at a restaurant, or bowling alley … and a girl he knew in high school sees him and they start chatting. Suppose the husband’s wife–who realizes he forgot his wallet–heads to the restaurant/bowling alley to deliver the billfold. Just as she walks in, the little tramp puts her dainty little hand on her husband’s chest, tosses her frosted locks back and laughs through her pearly white teeth, batting her eyelashes.
Just then, the husband catches sight of his wife at the periphery of his sight and feels heat race up his neck to his face, the other woman’s hand burning a hot spot on his pectoral muscle.
At that moment, the husband’s mouth dries up, his eyes widen and he stammers with cold, tingling fingers, trying to explain the innocent coincidence that resulted in this scene.
The fear he feels is not terror of condemnation because he wasn’t unfaithful. Being fully devoted to his wife, he just happened to bump into a woman he knew. Being polite, he engaged in small-talk. But, being sensitive to the love-bond between he and his wife, he realized how it could look, and the pain it might cause.
Granted, this is a bit embellished. In a healthy relationship, there wouldn’t be such melodrama. But, using absurdity to illustrate a valid point, we should have the same fear with God. For us, however, we could fill in the story. We’re often caught texting someone we shouldn’t (using the example above). Or we get as close as we can to flirting with another god, if not starting to go steady. We grow disillusioned with God since he doesn’t fit what we’d like Him to be, and we play the field of worldly ideas.
We should fear. And that fear should drive us away from those other gods and back toward the One who loves us.
For those who have rejected God’s love, they’ve rejected His rightful claim on them. And they should fear condemnation, which is coming at a time they won’t expect.