I read the end of the book of Daniel today, and one thing that struck me was the fear Daniel experienced in the presence of the angel who came to answer his prayer. By this time Daniel was an older man who had been faithfully serving God from his teen years. He knew suffering and persecution and he also knew God’s blessing as he walked in obedience to Him.
So here’s this seasoned believer who has stood before kings, been thrown into a lion’s den, interpreted dreams, and ruled the magicians of Chaldea, but he’s so afraid he can hardly stand.
Here’s a glimpse of what Daniel experienced:
I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult. Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength. (Daniel 10:5-8)
He started out deathly afraid, and his fear grew. He fell into what we’d call a coma, but a hand touched him and he came to. Still, he was on his hands and knees and was trembling. So the being spoke to him, and he was able to stand, still trembling, though. The heavenly being told Daniel not to be afraid, but Daniel “turned his face to the ground and became speechless.”
Then a heavenly being who looked like a man touched him and he was able to talk. What he said makes it clear he wasn’t over his fear:
“O my lord, as a result of the vision [of the man dressed in linen—the person he was talking to] anguish has come upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can such a servant of my lord talk with such as my lord? As for me, there remains just now no strength in me, nor has any breath been left in me.” (Daniel 10:16b-17)
Remember, this isn’t God he was talking to—“just” a messenger of God.
Scripture teaches God is to be feared. Psalm 130:4 states that a purpose of God’s forgiveness is to create fear. Of course, there is fear and then there is fear. So what are we talking about when we say forgiveness generates fear of the Lord?
Quite apparently this fear is not the dread of coming retribution. Forgiveness eliminates that kind of fear completely. Rather, I think it is an awesome awareness of what God is capable of—perhaps the fear Daniel experienced.
By illustration, think of a little kid watching his dad swat ball after ball in the batting cage. Afterward he looks up in wonder and says, “Wow, Daddy, I didn’t know you could do that.”
God’s forgiveness does the same thing—it generates awe and makes us think, If He can forgive my sin, what can’t He do.
The interesting, and perhaps confusing, thing is that the God we bow before in amazement is the same God who ought to generate great fear, according to Jesus, because He has the power to judge and to condemn:
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. 12:28)
So which is it? Fear or fear?
Perhaps another illustration would be helpful. All kinds of things here on earth should generate healthy respect—guns, dynamite, fire, knives, lightning, speeding cars, pounding waves, steep cliffs, electricity, and so on.
Take electricity, for instance. It makes life as we know it in the western world possible, so if we think of it at all, our attitude is most likely gratitude. Rarely do we think to be afraid of electricity. Yet if a small child picked up a screw driver and headed for an electrical outlet, most adults would rush to intervene. And if a toddler is a regular in a home, it’s not unusual to find all the vacant outlets protected with plastic caps.
Adults don’t need to be afraid of electricity, but we have a healthy fear of it. We aren’t going to abuse it or misuse it or let small children play with it because we know the results could be deadly. At the same time, we flip switches and change light bulbs and plug and unplug electrical cords with care but not with fear. We don’t lie awake at night trembling at the thought of a potential electrical shock.
In the same way, when we are in right relationship with God, we don’t tremble in the fear that He will turn His wrath on us. Nevertheless, we recognize His wrath, and that it is a fearful thing. In fact, our fear—our awareness of His power, our awe at what He is capable of—should make us quick to run to the aid of someone who is “carelessly handling” God, who is putting himself in jeopardy because he does not himself yet fear the Lord.
Paul says it well:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. (2 Cor. 5:10-11a, ESV, emphasis mine)
Of course false teaching about hell and God’s wrath and God’s righteous judgment might dissuade genuine Christians from seeking to persuade others of the fear of the Lord. Will we become so numb to the seriousness of falling into the hands of an angry God that we forget to run to the aid of those who are about to thrust their fingers into a live light socket?
A portion of this post appeared here in April 2011 under this same title.