When describing the nature of our Heavenly Father, the first thing we likely think of is how loving He is. Come on, He created every single human being in His image. He is responsible for nature evolving as it has in all its immense beauty. He is seeking an intimate relationship with every one of his people, and all it takes is a simple prayer to connect with Him.
We almost forget that God, so awe-provoking and just, is as powerful as He is. It’s intimidating to think of all He is actually capable of doing and being. That’s why many of us, when reading Scripture, can be taken aback and even confused when mentioning how we should fear the Lord.
Aren’t we supposed to revere and love Him? Why should be cowering in terror? Wouldn’t that impede our faithful pursuit, sharing God’s nature with others who simply want more peace and love in their lives?
I agree; at first glance, fearing the Lord seems very counter to what we envision and want from God. However, when we truly fear the Lord, its implied meaning is greater and more profound than we realize. As with any effort in spirituality, it takes time and patience to understand the magnitude of very simple words, but once we do, we only feel more drawn to our beliefs.
What the Bible says.
Especially in the Old Testament, the wandering Israelites, free from the chains of Egypt, are frequently told to fear the Lord. After all, He is responsible for first evicting Adam and Eve from Eden, all the plagues inflicted upon Egypt, and every person killed among the tribes for not obeying His commandments of purity. In fact, the Old Testament’s depiction of God is downright terrifying.
When considering the word “fear,” we likely think of every crippling natural disaster, every crime, every act of terror, and our worst nightmares coming true. Let’s consider why God caused some of these horrific things to happen, in biblical times and in present times. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.” In this instance, when we fear the Lord, we know He can not only create rich beauty, but also punishing terror.
In Psalm 34 King David also tells us about learning the fear of the Lord: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. … Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Think: why do we obey God’s commandments in the first place? We likely do so because we love Him, but He is also a Father for His children, wanting the best for them. He makes Himself an authority figure by instilling a certain level of respect and, in turn, fear of being disobedient.
No fear? Think again.
As with any attempt in discipline, we fear punishment and thereby follow the rules. We first develop our moral compass to judge right from wrong, and eventually it becomes easier. We begin doing good out of love rather than strictly fear.
This is what God wants from us when using the word “fear” over 300 times in the Bible. His discipline is ultimately out of love, but it wouldn’t be effective if didn’t fear the repercussions of our actions and how He would respond.
No, don’t expect God to come down with strikes of lightning or plagues of locusts for deviating from His Word, but do see a lack of fear as a chief sin. Romans 3 discusses this idea of sin in depth. Verses 19 and 20 say, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
We shouldn’t think we’re “above” God, that we can defy Him without punishment, that we can boast ourselves as high and mighty while still respecting Him. Such an attitude reflects ignorance of God’s power and position in His kingdom. Instead, be humbled before the Lord and fear Him. Just as He can cast us down, He can uplift us.
Fear into forgiveness.
As I mentioned, God is merciful. He is well-aware that we will fall from His Word and commandments. He knows that we won’t always think, speak, and act according to Him. If we didn’t know any better, we should be fearing the Lord every single moment: who knows how He might punish us?!
Because we fear the Lord, we also know that He forgives those who bear their soul to Him. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Thanks to Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, the only thing we have to do to receive forgiveness is submit to God, sins and all.
Jesus is probably the best example of how fear, love, and forgiveness all correspond: He warned us at every turn to fear God, not men—and he confirmed that in everything about His life and death. He spoke lovingly but frankly to all and didn’t mince words when people needed to face their sin and repent. At the same time, He preached love for everybody and demonstrated that love in its rawest forms.
Jesus shows how we can live in both fear and love, and that in turn shows how we can each grow to become more like God. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion. The immediate fear instills the capacity to love and no longer feel terrified by God’s punishments. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:17-18).
Fearing the Lord is a positive influence in our lives because it’ll be rewarded with eternal salvation. Once understanding our position as a child of God, we only admire Him even more! As Proverbs 14:27 says, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.” Yes, we’ll always have some element of fear interacting with the heavenly Father, but it comes from the mere attempt of understanding His magnitude and love for all. Our faith thus grows stronger, and we become more confident in Him.
How does fearing the Lord affect your relationship with Him and your spiritual life?
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie