Terry’s Take… Fear or Love of God? (Part I)
Christians say that God is good. They say that God is our friend. That we can draw near to Him because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. So why, then, we are supposed to fear God? Let’s discuss!
There are two prominent themes found in the Bible. One is that God is an unconditional lover, that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) And two, we are to “fear the Lord”, a phrase that appears many times in the Bible.
So…Why should anyone be afraid of a God if He manifests His Presence through and by unconditional love?
Many Christians believe that God is loving and that one needs to be fearful or careful of God. Personally, I have come to believe that this interpretation should not exist, for love cannot be experienced fully in the midst of fear: fear always shuts down love. This suggests that there must be another way to understand this fear of the Lord, a fear that opens the door to experiencing God’s love rather than shutting it down.
The Bible ties faithfulness to having fear of God in many places. Here’s just a sampling:
- Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin” (Ex. 20:20)
- Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him (Deut. 8:6).
- The Lord said to the accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” (Job 1:8).
- For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. (Ps. 103:11)
- Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Ps 34:11).
- The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate (Prov. 8:13)
- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Prov. 9:10)
- Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every people anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35)
In all these verses, the fear of the Lord is seen as the root of being faithful or obedient to God. These teachings suggest that fear of God is the reason people resist sin or evil or seek wisdom and knowledge about God. People fear the consequences that will come from doing wrong…like being caught and judged for our wrongful actions by our community or the judicial system or other personal sufferings. Within these Bible verses, these negative consequences are ultimately tied to God.
However, it’s interesting to note that this relationship between God and fear is very weak in the New Testament… almost entirely missing in the four gospels. This should cause us as Christians to pause. Instead, there are many places in the Old Testament and New Testament where experiencing God’s love is a sign of knowing God.
There is a Jewish mantra that appears many times throughout the Old Testament: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Ps. 103:8)
The notion of God’s steadfast love… which is another way of saying that God’s love is unconditional… appears 175 times in the Old Testament.
During some worship services I have attended, there is a time when people can share openly with the community about a blessing or concern they are carrying that day. (Here at St. Mark’s we do this by asking the Pastor to include a concern or blessing in the prayers of the day.) To share these openly means we become vulnerable to others in the church.
We may think: “Do I risk becoming vulnerable by sharing a concern or thanksgiving with God and my friends here at church? Or do I stay quiet… like I did couple months ago… and not share my thankfulness for my wife being fully recovered?” You may choose to stay quiet…because of your subtle fear of becoming vulnerable.
Let me suggest that this fear of becoming vulnerable may be a better way of understanding what the phrase “fear of the Lord” might actually mean. This type of fear is a fear that all of us have experienced. That fear of entering a space of vulnerability is what keeps us from entering a more personal intimate space with others, including allowing ourselves… to be ministered to by the Spirit of God through the family of faith.
This fear is the fear that all of us must lean into if we are going to enter into the vulnerable space of opening ourselves up to others and God…so that we can experience God’s love and allow God’s spirit to minister to us. However, when we are able to lean into this fear of the Lord, something magical happens.