I love the song about God being a good, good father. Have you heard it? It just reminds me of His everlasting love, His immeasurable grace, His endless mercy, His HESED—the covenant-keeping love that pursues and stays and redeems.
Yet, sometimes I struggle to comprehend that kind of love. It’s way easier for me to fear Him. It goes like this for me: He’s all powerful. And I’m a screw-up. If I were Him, I’d want to… This way of thinking is an old, old path for me. I know it isn’t right, but some days it’s hard to chart a new course. And it leads me to dark places, wondering about all the hard things God allowed in my life, and what could be next for me. Thinking this way makes me anxious! This is the wrong way to fear God.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7, NIV
What does it mean to fear the Lord, properly?
Most would agree that fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat” (Google Dictionary). As I’ve said, sometimes my “fear” of God can wander in this direction. After all, I’m constantly sinning, a behavior which deserves His eternal wrath. But because Jesus took my punishment and completely rescued me, I am God’s child forever.
God’s children are not meant to fear/dread Him. We’re to fear/revere Him. We should have the greatest respect for His absolute authority, His complete sovereignty, and His ultimate dominion. He is so much higher and better and stronger than we comprehend. He’s eternal and pre-existent and omnipresent, and omniscient and there isn’t anyone or anything else like Him. In fact, there are no words to describe how superior God is to everything else!
So, obviously, a lack of fear/reverence of God is just plain crazy, right? It would be foolish not to fear God. In Proverbs, foolishness goes beyond silliness, or clowning around, or being irresponsible, or even lacking intelligence. What does it mean to be a fool, biblically?
The fool is not so much stupid (except when the context demands such a meaning) as immoral and pernicious. The fool’s problem is not so much intellectual as practical and spiritual…His mind is closed to God…He conducts his life without any recognition of God and thus is corrupt and perverse…He does not fear the Lord and hence knows nothing of wisdom.
For example, when King Saul disobeyed God concerning the destruction of the Amalekites, he was foolish (1 Samuel 15). God had devoted everything in Amalek to destruction, but Saul chose to preserve some of the people and animals. His mea culpa to the prophet Samuel was this: “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them” (1 Samuel 15:24, NIV, italics mine).
Saul rejected God’s wisdom and instruction. He feared the people more than he feared the LORD and, afterward, Samuel said, “You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26, NIV).
What or whom do you fear? Where do your worries lie? Are you afraid of losing a loved one or a relationship, afraid of growing old, afraid of being overlooked or forgotten? Focusing on earthly fears will draw us away from God’s wisdom and instruction, but the fearing the Lord gives us an eternal perspective. Jesus said,”Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).
So often, we think of the LORD as our Abba, our Daddy. This is true about Him, but this sense of intimacy should never lessen our awe of, and reverence for, Him. He is frightfully powerful and “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”, so “let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Ephesians 3:20; Hebrews 12:28-29).