What Does God Have To Do With Fear?


In yesterday’s Fear And Forgiveness post I centered my thoughts on Psalm 130:4 which states that a purpose of God’s forgiveness is to create fear. As some who commented pointed out, 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.

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]

My other fear is that false teaching about hell and God’s wrath and God’s righteous judgment will dissuade genuine Christians from seeking to persuade others. 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 about to thrust their fingers in a live light socket?

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Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Comments (6)  
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