Fear isn’t a positive emotion for me. I know some people are at their best when they’re afraid and achieve impressive feats as a result. I’m certainly not in that category. Furthermore, I find fear debilitating and prohibitive. So, I shuddered the first time I encountered the instruction to fear God. In my experience, most people avoid relationships with those they fear. If they must have a relationship at all with such people, it’s rarely a loving one. So, I struggled with the idea of fearing a God who supposedly loves me and commands me to love Him back. But as I grew in my understanding of Scripture, I began to realise the significance of the charge to fear God.
Astronomy is one of my favourite pastimes. I love learning about space and the various discoveries scientists are making. I’m eagerly anticipating the pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope, the eventual successor of the excellent Hubble Telescope, which has given us many exciting photographs of our universe. Whenever I look up on a clear night or watch programmes about planets, stars and galaxies, I can’t but marvel. David must have marvelled too when he wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the skies proclaim the work of His Hands…” [Psalm 19:1-6]. In Genesis 1, we find that God spoke, and all we see in our universe came into being.
I can’t even begin to comprehend the magnificence of the God presented in Genesis 1. But what’s even more incredulous is the thought that He wants a relationship with me. If that is true, and it is, the appropriate posture towards such a Being must include awe, reverence and trembling, which the Bible describes as the fear of the Lord. Because on any yardstick of magnificence, God is infinitely superior to the best of us. He’s in a class all by Himself. The Bible also teaches that God didn’t just create the universe. He continues to sustain it today, along with everything in it, including us [Hebrews 1:2-3]. As such, it’s unwise for anyone to ignore God or fail to take what He says seriously [Psalm 14:1].
There are about 25 occurrences of the phrase: “the fear of the Lord” in the Bible (depending on the version). It occurs fourteen times in Proverbs, a book best described as a practical guide to living a godly life, making the fear of the Lord a critical component of a life with God. The first appearance of the phrase in Proverbs teaches us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [Proverbs 1:7]. Ultimately, what we know dictates our worldview and sets our priorities. Elsewhere, it says the fear of the Lord is also the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10]. Wisdom could be described as knowledge rightly applied. Essentially, the fear of the Lord should be central to what we know and how we act if we have the appropriate posture towards God. But how often is this the case for us?
Do you fear God? There is a simple litmus test. Do your thoughts and deeds align with what God says, not what you think He says or what you would like Him to say, but what He actually says? How does fearing God impact your relationships with other human beings? How often do you ask God what He would have you do in the situations you face? Do you usually heed His response? Solomon taught that if we fear God, we’ll embrace His instructions on making wise, godly choices [Proverbs 15:33], and we won’t despise this knowledge [Proverbs 1:29]. He affirmed that true insight is knowing God. In other words, we lack a genuine comprehension of life, good and evil, until we understand God’s character and His word. There are other rewards for fearing God recorded in Scripture. Those rewards alone make it a character trait worth cultivating. It’s also worth pointing out that fearing God and doing what He says blesses you and your family [Psalm 128].
A reverential awe of God is very different from being petrified of Him. God doesn’t desire the latter [1 John 4:18]. He paid an indescribable price to reconcile us to Himself after we rebelled against Him [Romans 5:6-11]. God desires to adopt us as His children so that we can share in the inheritance of Jesus, now and for all eternity [Ephesians 1:3-6]. There’s no doubting God’s love for us, but amazingly, He gives us the freedom to accept or reject His love. Sadly, so many of us do. We willfully or ignorantly seek satisfaction and joy in other things we know are transient and fleeting. We turn to lesser sources for wisdom and answers to our problems when the God of the universe has already given us His solutions. We prioritise the knowledge of other things over knowing God and His word. We disobey Him regularly, but He never casts us away. How good and merciful God is! He doesn’t just put up with us; He lovingly pursues us. No wonder David pondered: “what are human beings that You (God) are mindful of them?” [Psalm 8:4].
This week, I’d like to invite you to examine your life. Do you know what the fear of the Lord is? Do you truly fear God? It’s impossible to be in a right relationship with God if you don’t fear Him [Deuteronomy 10:12-13]. Maybe like me, you ignorantly baulked at the thought of fearing God when you encountered the idea. Or you haven’t given it much thought yet. Could today be the day to pause and reflect on your relationship with God and take your first steps towards true wisdom, knowledge and understanding that will serve you in this life and the next?