Do you see God as soft and fluffy, or burly and scary?
Do you lean toward God being your nice friend or harsh judge?
The first 9 chapters of the Book of Proverbs sets up the offer of Divine Wisdom to us, leading us away from destruction and into life. Solomon sandwiches these 9 chapters with the idea of “fear”:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
I’m sure many of us have perpetually heard that this word “fear” doesn’t mean to be afraid but to be in absolute AWE. Whereas I think this is mostly accurate, I think we have a difficult relationship with this idea of “being afraid of God.” Let me explain:
1) Many of us have a really unhealthy fear of God, being afraid of his judgement and wrath when we disobey him. We see him as being infinitely above us (which of course he is), waiting to discipline us (even harshly) when we disappoint him. We see him as a cruel judge.
2) We also may venture the other way, not seeing God as “wholly other” and infinitely pure as we sit Him next to us as our “co-pilot” and see his commands as soft advice. We “declaw the lion of Judah” (Dorothy Sayers).
We likely don’t cleanly fit into either camp, but we certainly lean one way or the other. But the proper “fear of the Lord” is to realize (as much as we humans can) that God has every ability and right to judge us with the ultimate judgement, but that he already poured out this full just judgement onto his own son. So to be afraid of God is to NOT believe the Gospel; to believe that Jesus hasn’t paid enough of the price and/or that God will require double payment for our sins, Jesus’ plus ours. Similarly, God is not our buddy buddy (though he absolutely is our tender Father and close brother). He is the God of all creation and infinitely above and beyond us, justly demanding our allegiance and worship while voluntarily sacrificially serving us to the point of death. “Fear of the Lord” just isn’t as clean as we want to make it because God is somehow perfectly both: just and love; grace and law; above and among.
Ben Seneker reminded us this past week that the proper Fear of the Lord doesn’t push us away afraid but rather draws us near in awe and worship and then sending us outward in love.