The Fear of God

By Ben Swift

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of all knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction…Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. (Proverbs 1:7;8:1-4 NRSV)

Everyone fears something. What do you fear? You can be honest; this is just between you and God.

Fear is a hot topic and it seems popular these days to challenge ourselves to push through our psychological breaking points, to overcome crippling anxieties and ultimately live longer, more fulfilling lives. Documentaries such as Liam Hemsworth’s Limitless and Todd Sampson’s Bodyhack, probe into the limits of human potential and endurance, often linking these to the overcoming of fear.  

I wonder sometimes if Christians living in this postmodern age have somehow been taken down a similar road when considering God and their relationship with him. Do we see a fear of God to be healthy or something to overcome and replace with something more comfortable? Something that simultaneously elevates us and brings God down. Somewhere along the track, it seems, God has been reduced to a person quite alien to the God of the Scriptures, the God of the Old and New Testament who from the very first book of the Bible confronts us with questions concerning our place before him.

But the LORD called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9)

Adam’s response to God in the following verse effectively sums up the natural human response to God’s confronting questions.

‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ (Genesis 3:10)

Hiding ourselves from God, avoiding the confronting fear that presents itself as God challenges us time and again with his questions, is nothing new under the sun. Sadly, this hiding from the true God has led to distorted understandings of him, even within some church circles.  

Perhaps Jesus, being God incarnate, and therefore taking on humanity in its fullest sense, has led many Christians to consider him, ‘one of us’, even one of our mates! It’s a bit like the old Joan Osborne song, ‘What if God was one of us…just trying to make his way home’. This would certainly make the wristband cliché that asks, ‘What would Jesus do?’ more obtainable in our own minds. The truth, however, is that Jesus who is The Christ, is not one of us, but rather God come to us; the fully human, fully divine, God Man.

If our eyes and minds are open to God’s Word, we find he reveals himself to us, or at least the aspects he chooses to reveal, illustrating time and again the vast contrast between his holy and divine being with our often defiant, created, and dependable humanity.  

Through his Word we are challenged to ask the question, ‘Who is God?’ and to recognise the truth of who we are, a truth that will ultimately, if we are honest, bring us to our knees in a healthy fear of Him. It’s here that we discover the unique place where true wisdom may be discerned and acted upon. In our aim to live like Jesus, asking what he would do in all circumstances, we will develop an ever-increasing awareness of our broken selves, always falling desperately short of the holiness of God in what we do.  

The apostle Paul knew this well: ‘I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.’ (Romans 7:18b-19)

But what a good place to lose and yet find ourselves! What a good place to die in order that we may live!  

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:19b-20a)

Here we are confronted with our desperate need for the saving message of the gospel, to be hidden with Christ. Here we are humbled with a possibility solely found in a divine gift of grace, a reconciliation with our holy God, unobtainable through anything we do in our attempts to live perfect lives.

There are many things, including aging and death, that cause us fear and anxiety in life. No person is immune to fear, and in a way that’s healthy. Ultimately, however, it is the reality of God that confronts us. We are called to wrestle with our fear of him above all things so that we no longer need to fear the things of which he is in ultimate control. In him we find wisdom. In Christ we find rest.   

And he [God] said to humankind, ‘Truly the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’ (Job 28:28)  

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