What scares you? Monsters? Clowns? Bugs? Chiropractors?
We all have things we are afraid of, whether we like to admit it or not. Sometimes it is for perfectly legitimate reasons: we are afraid of snakes or spiders because we know they could hurt us. Sometimes, our reasons are less legitimate, such as in the cases of aerophobia, the fear of drafts, or cathisophobia, the fear of sitting.
Sometimes fear is a very good thing. Take Proverbs 111:10;
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (ESV)
For a long time I struggled with the idea of the fear of the Lord. Why do I need to be afraid of God? Doesn’t He love me? Isn’t He good? Why should I fear something that is good, wants what is best for me, and will never act rashly or in blind anger? But this verse (and many others like it) is in the Bible, so I’ve got to deal with it.
Some people explained it to me by saying, “Well, we have to fear God, but it isn’t real fear. I mean, it’s not like horror movie fear or something like that.” For a while I went with that idea, but it doesn’t really line up to the scriptures. Take Isaiah; in Isaiah 6 the prophet is taken in a vision to the throne room of God, and Isaiah views the Lord in all His heavenly splendor. What is Isaiah’s reaction?
Woe is me! For I am lost… (5a)
As my High School students translated the verse, it equates roughly to “Oh crap, I’m dead!” Why did Isaiah feel this way? He continues;
…for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (5b)
Isaiah had an attack of the Fear of the Lord, and it caused him to examine his life. The shock of seeing the Glory of God, seeing Him in all of His awesome holiness and glory, made Isaiah realize how truly and utterly sinful he was, so much so that he did not believe he could continue to live.
This reaction isn’t isolated to Isaiah. Throughout the entirety of scripture, when people have an encounter with God, typically the first words the Lord says are “do not be afraid,” because most everyone is! That is the reaction all of us will be pressed into when we encounter God face to face.
That is the value of the fear of God; it puts our lives into perspective. We often like comparing our lives to other people’s lives. We say things like, “I’m not perfect, but I’m better that the guy at the desk across from me, or my manager, or the entirety of the HR department. I’m a pretty good person compared to Charlie Sheen or Muammar Gaddafi or Adolph Hitler.” We can get pretty good at justifying our lives, but all of that goes out the window when we meet God. We realize that our lives are not being weighed against our neighbors or coworkers or some despot from history, they are being weighed against God’s perfection. That is a measure that none of us can hope to match. When we realize that fact, we come face-to-face with God’s holiness and justice, and it fills us with fear.
However, it doesn’t stop there. As the psalmist said, the fear of the Lord is just the beginning. When we acknowledge our sinfulness and God’s perfection, that is when God looks at us not with judgment or wrath but with love, saying “fear not.” When we have rightly acknowledged our sinfulness and rebellion, we are in the place that God wants us. Francis Chan describes God’s perspective this way:
Don’t let pride control you. Don’t continue believing you are good enough, that you are your own boss, and that you drive your live. Take time to consider the fear of the Lord. Look at the Bible’s portrait of our holy, just, loving, all-powerful God, and realize how much greater He is than we are in our sinful, selfish lives. Then, give that pathetic, rebellious life over to Him and watch the amazing things He will do with it.