“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7, ESV
As writer for Christianity Today JoHannah Reardon discusses, the occurrence of the word fear in reference to God is found throughout the Bible a mind-boggling 300 times. If this is the case, then surely the fear of the Lord is a biblical principle that is of relatively large importance. After all, it is the foundation of the entire book of Proverbs. However, the use of the word fear and God in the same sentence does not compute well with our minds. Is not God loving and approachable? In fact, Hebrews encourages us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.” There is room for both of these concepts to not only coexist, but to also to live in harmony. The fear of God is often ignored due to the confusion that can arise from it, but with deeper investigation, the point of this principle can become abundantly clear.
To begin, there is a perspective on this concept that is not beneficial. This is the idea that we fear God because of his unpredictability. In other words, this fear is drawn from the fact that perhaps a God would spontaneously do something contrary to his character, which is untrue. Rather, Craig Blaising once articulated the fear of God as thus: “God has not come maliciously, but neither has He come permissively; and in between the two is grace.” God’s motive is not spur on an anxious life that is constantly fearful, but his intent is to not simply let us carry on our lives without a thought to spare in regard to him. There must be a balance.
“God has not come maliciously, but neither has He come permissively; and in between the two is grace.”
Furthermore, the fear of God is entirely natural. Whenever a human comes into contact with a holy entity in the Bible, the immediate reaction is fear. Humanity has always been this way; we fear and dislike what we are not similar with. This is one of the roots for xenophobia. However, since God is in not only different in being, but in holiness, the fear is much more drastic and realistic than disagreeing over human differences. Since we do not know what it means to be truly pure, the perfection of God can cause a sense of panic and fear in us. However, God’s perfection is through and through, and instead of creating panic we ought to let this create an assurance of his goodness in all things.
However, the fear of God is still something that is important to faith in God. People who see the word “fear” often distract from the purpose of the word by using it as a mechanism to point to God as a malicious and evil character. In reality, this is not the case made throughout the Bible. The crux of the fear of the Lord is the importance of humility. If we were to simply view God as a peer to humanity, then we bring him down to our level with an innately heretical mindset. Rather, as he is holy and perfect, we must realize that he is so far above us that to approach him in prideful manner lacks the humility that comes with fear. The fear of the Lord is a sobering realization that in him resides all authority over our lives. This creates a fearful reverence, but what is the point of this?
The fear of the Lord is a sobering realization that in him resides all authority over our lives.
The point of fearing God is not to display his raw power in order to impress us; he needs not to seek any approval from us. Moreover, this mindset God desires for us to adopt is for our own good. If we only thought of God as loving and not just, then we would carry on our lives without a single notion regarding him. However, his justice displayed throughout the Bible and to us personally manifests a reverence that desires to obey him. It is for our own good the we fear God. To continue this pattern of thought, he also uses this fear in to create an abhorrence of evil in our lives. To fear God is to shun evil.
The way the fear of the Lord is most realistically manifested in us is again through humility. Fearing the Lord does not take away our confidence to approach his throne, but rather begs us to revere and uphold his throne of righteousness over everything else. The almighty God chose to be in communion with us, and we ought not to take this lightly. To take the atoning work of Jesus for granted and continue leading a life full of sinful patterns is to not fear the Lord. To fear the him is to live in a reality that he is sovereign over all domains of the world, heavenly and earthly. We fear God the least when we are prideful, but, as stated last week, this is sadly the demise of the human condition. The good news is that God has not left us in this condition, and in him we may become a new creation. So, do not go through life thinking that fearing God means perpetually being anxious and worrisome, but rather that his sovereignty is so vast and powerful that we need to revere and fear him out of obedience. Finally, we must remember the goal of this fear is to lead out a humble and obedient life fully devoted to glorifying God in all that we do.
After this discussion, I will leave you with perhaps one of the most clear manifestations of the fear of the Lord found in James 4: 6-10:
“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (ESV)