I was in a church recently and everybody was talking about the love of God. It struck me that while we are more than happy to wax eloquent about the love of God, we never talk about the fear of God. Now don’t misunderstand me; by no means do I want to diminish the amazing love of God – far from it – but I think that if that is all that we talk about then we are left with an incomplete and inadequate view of God. It can very easily lead to the image of God being a kindly old man who winks at sin because he loves us and even if he didn’t like it then he probably couldn’t do a whole lot about it anyway.
A passage that has always stuck with me is Isaiah 6 where Isaiah is brought into the throne room of God. His reaction is very different to how most of us picture ourselves being when we encounter God. Rather than being glad to see God he says “Woe is me! For I am lost; 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!” (Isaiah 6:5). This was not an unrepentant sinner encountering God; this was one of his prophets who spoke on God’s behalf to the people and he saw himself as doomed because he had seen the Almighty God. We sing “Show me your glory” easily, forgetting that when Moses made the same request God told him that “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
The Bible encourages us to fear God, indeed Proverbs 9:10 refers to the fear of God as being the beginning of wisdom. Logically this means that we are foolish not to fear him. What does this mean with regards to how we relate to God? Do we cower from him as if he is a tyrant ready to strike us down at the earliest opportunity? Of course not. Through Jesus we as Christians have been given access to God and are adopted into his family; and no good father wants to be an object of terror to his kids. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where Lucy asks Mr Beaver whether Aslan (the representation of Jesus) is safe. Mr Beaver’s response is “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you”. Likewise God isn’t safe, he is terrifyingly powerful and glorious but he is good and we can trust in his goodness.
We should not, however, see him as a lion without any teeth. One of the Ten Commandments states that we should not take the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7). This means that we should not say that God has said something when he hasn’t. The world is full of people who say that God says one thing or another when he has said no such thing. These people gather around themselves large followings of people who believe what they say because they “hear the voice of God” when in fact they are hearing their own imaginations and musings and abandon the Bible in favour of their own ideas. Is this how we treat the words of someone who we fear, honour and respect? Surely not. We wouldn’t do that to a human that we feared, let alone the almighty God.
Now, I said at the beginning that I did not want to diminish the love of God. Indeed, I believe that if we understand the majesty of God and fear him properly then it magnifies the greatness of his love towards us. This is not an impotent God who extends his love towards us. No, this is a mighty, awesome, and terrifying God who shows us mercy and grace and love, and that is so much more amazing.
This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.