by Janet Gruchacz
Do you fear God? Is the fear of the Lord a concept that seems foreign to you, something to be left in the Old Testament?
Scripture tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Psalm 111:10) and that the one who fears the Lord is blessed (happy) (Psalm 112).
Many stories in Scripture give a clear and even terrifying picture of God’s wrath against sin: from His judgment of plagues on the Egyptians for their idolatry and their enslavement of the Hebrews to His delivering the Promised land to the Hebrews by destroying those living in the land because their own wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:3-6). He opened the earth to swallow Korah, Dathan and Abiram when they rebelled (Numbers 16), and allowed His own people to repeatedly be defeated by their enemies when they fell into idolatry
Even Jesus warned that we should have a reverent fear of God. In Matthew 10:28, He says, ” Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (see also Luke 12:4-5).
Why is it that this fear of the Lord has been lost in the church today? The church in America has been redefining God and the truths of Scripture in order to not offend our society. Since our culture has redefined wrong and right and sought to eradicate the ideas of sin and judgment, the church has allowed the same thinking to infiltrate our view of God. We redefine Him, passing over what the Word says about our sin and God’s holiness and wrath against that sin.
We favor a softer, more tolerant God who would never be angry or judgmental. If we care to look at Scripture, it sternly warns against redefining God to be more palatable and human. Psalm 50 is a warning against letting our culture’s values redefine our God. It was written to a highly religious nation that redefined God as one who is satisfied with the motions and rituals of religion, with no requirements for true holiness of heart. He rebukes them for their religious rituals and rebellious hearts, and especially for their insisting that God was pleased with these things: Psalm 50:21-22; “These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces with none to rescue.” (italics added)
Those aren’t the word of a grand daddy-like god who winks at sin and coddles the wayward and ignores their selfish ways.
And look at Job. Here was a righteous man (chapters 1-2) who feared God and shunned evil. The first chapters make it clear that God was not punishing Job; there was a much bigger story going on. Even when the trouble hit, it says Job did not sin in what he said (2:10). But even this God-fearing man had room to grow in his knowledge of God. (Proverbs 1:7 – fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge). Chapters 38-40 of the book of Job are God’s discourse to Job, revealing His might, power, eternality, creativity, infinite knowledge and wisdom. As God speaks, Job grows silent, and succumbs to absolute awe and reverence. In 40:5 Job acknowledges he has nothing to say to God that could ever expand God’s knowledge. By chapter 42:1-6, Job acknowledges God’s infinite power, wisdom, sovereignty and right to rule and His superiority over Job. And he acknowledges a deeper understanding of God than he had before (“my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you”) and a deeper reverent fear (“I despise myself, I repent in dust and ashes”).
But fear of the Lord isn’t the totality of knowledge of Him. Otherwise, we would live in terror of Him, fearing offending Him and being destroyed by His wrath. Fear of the Lord, remember, is the beginning of knowing Him. It includes a right view of self: sinful, offensive to this holy God, and a fear of offending Him. But Scripture gives a much bigger picture of this God. Consider Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10 and Luke 12 that we looked at earlier. His teaching doesn’t end with a fear of this holy God’s wrath, but He goes on. Jesus said, “are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31).
So this holy God who hates and punishes sin is also a tender, loving Father. If two little birds of minute value are watched over by Him, He certainly cares for us. Jesus assures us that each of us is of greater value than the tiny birds. Indeed, He even knows how many hairs are on your head! So Jesus, after instructing us to fear the holiness and wrath of God, tells us, “don’t be afraid,” because we are greatly valued and loved by God. So loved and valued that He Himself made a way for us to be in a loving relationship with Him. This is the beauty of the complete picture of the Lord given in Scripture. We were created by Him to love Him, know Him and be known by Him. We (every one of us since Adam) rebelled against that designed purpose and rejected our Creator, earning His wrath. We are each helpless to fix the situation and we are required to pay the penalty for our rebellion. But He is love, and for no other reason than Himself He sent His perfect Son to pay that penalty for us. Not having to die for His own sin, He was able to pay fully our death sentence.
That act of love and sacrifice settles forever the argument that God is vindictive and cruel, intent on making us suffer, not allowing us any enjoyment. No, this perfectly holy and just God took it on Himself to satisfy His own wrath against our rebellion. Because we could never earn His favor ourselves, He gave it to us freely, to be received with gratitude and an acknowledgement of His authority and right to rule. For not only is He our Creator (to whom we belong by right), He is also our Redeemer from the cost of rejecting Him and asserting our own (non-existent) right to rule ourselves. Twice bought.
So this big picture that Scripture gives is so much better than the pieces that the church often offers to the world, picking here and there the parts that aren’t so offensive, diluting the gospel of the glory of God with eternal ramification and devolving it into a nice story of how Jesus can make your life better. We need to spread the gospel of love- no question about that, but the love of God can only be fully grasped when viewed against the backdrop of His holiness and our response of fearing Him.