Monday, April 20, 2009

the fear of the LORD (2a) the fear in fear

Why should we "fear God"? Why not just "love God" or "serve God", since they can mean much the same thing?

The fact that we can even ask this question shows how small our view of God has become.

We sing "God is holy", but when Isaiah saw God he fell face down and cried out, "Woe to me! ... I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips ... and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isa 6:1-8).

We celebrate God's glory, but when Ezekiel saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD" he fell on his face before him (Ezek 1:25-28).

We declare "God is sovereign", but we forget we're clay in the Potter's hands (Isa 29:16, 64:8, Jer 18:6, Rom 9:21).

We say "God will judge", but we don't like to admit that God is "a consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deut 4:24) who "can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28).

We confess that Jesus is God, but when John saw the glorious, risen Christ, the Alpha and Omega, he fell "at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:12-18).

We say "God is wise", but when God revealed his wisdom to Job, he covered his mouth and despised himself, repenting in dust and ashes (Job 40:4-5, 42:2-6).

We take God's word lightly, but when Jeremiah heard God speak he said, "My heart is broken within me; all my bones tremble. I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and his holy words" (Jer 23:9).

We love to recall Jesus' meekness (Matt 11:29) but we forget that Jesus' anger is so terrible that it is better to be crushed by falling mountains than to face it (Rev 6:16 cf 14:14-20, 19:11-21).

Even God's mercy should make us tremble. God alone can grant forgiveness (Ps 130:4). He says "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" (Ex 33:19, Rom 9:15). His forgiveness was won when he poured out his anger on his only Son (Rom 3:25). His love is higher than the heavens and his mercy vaster than the skies (Ps 103:11-12, Eph 3:14-21).

It's easy for us to domesticate God. Our God gives "orders to the morning" (Job 38:12) and does whatever pleases him (Job 23:13, Ps 115:3, 135:6, Jer 32:27). He needs nothing from us (Ac 17:25) and we can't escape his presence (Ps 139:7-12).

Have we forgotten the fearful view of God we're given in the Bible?

God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. (1 Tim 6:15-16)

Who among the gods is like you, O LORD ? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome [fearful] in glory, working wonders? (Exod 15:11)

To know God is to fear him. If you don't fear him, you need to learn to know him.

Next time I'd like to talk more about the fear in "the fear of the LORD".

images are from and stock.xchng; the painting is Durand's Painting of God's Judgment Upon Gog


Hon said...

Great summary, Jean! Thank you.

Can you write something on fear in Hebrews, preferrably before midnight, Thursday? (just joshing! I'm writing an essay on fear and Christ in Hebrews)

Jean said...

Wow! What a topic! I've just read Hebrews, and I've just put a whole lot of work into this series on fear, and I would have absolutely no idea where to go with that. What verses/passages are you concentrating on? You'll have to share your conclusions with us!

Hon said...

Yeh, it's been a great topic! Has really opened my eyes and cleared up some thoughts (and created lots of questions). 4:1 is nice an straight forward. I'm concentrating on 5:7, end of ch 10 and end of 12. Can I send you my essay afterward?

What are your thoughts and questions so far?

Jean said...

Ooh, sounds fascinating, what an interesting lot of verses you're looking at! I would like to see the essay once you're done.

Certainly I'll be dealing with some similar issues - how the "falling away" passages in Hebrews, and warnings about judgement day, affect us as Christians. Of course, I'll only have a sentence or two to do it in! Which forces me to be clear in my thinking - most of the time. ;) This has been a particularly difficult topic to be clear about, I must say, so forgive any haziness - it's complicated, and I'm not entirely sure I've nailed it!

Not sure what you meant by "What are your thoughts and questions so far?". Do you mean about Hebrews?

Hon said...

Thanks, Jean. Finding this series and our exchanges really encouraging.

Light bulb moment yesterday: fear of God means not daring to refuse him (12:25).

(So you wouldn't dare commit apostasy, wouldn't stop persevering and thus miss out on the rest / get consumed by God. Fear of God drives you to heed his word, rather than refuse it like the Israelites.)

This definition of fear incorporates the emotional (knee-knocking fear) and the action (obedience). There are a few more thoughts on Facebook, in the status!

We usually think people only fear God because we are sinful, and God is holy (so God will "get" the people who oppose him). In Hebrews, it's not the fear of your enemy but rather the fear of God on whose side we have aligned ourselves. (Paraphrase: We are on the same side, therefore fear him, lest you become his enemy). For Christ this fear was the expression of his obedience in 5:7, which was appropriate, good and pleasing to his Father.

Will pray as you / we condense y/our thoughts and sentences!

By "What are your thoughts and questions so far?". Yes, I mean about Hebrews. You said you 'have no idea where to go with that'. Does that mean you have lots of conflicting thoughts, beginnings of thoughts, etc?

Jean said...

Fantastic summary, Hom, sounds exactly right! You've come to the same conclusions as me.

On Hebrews - I meant I didn't have the relevant verses and chapters in Hebrews at the tip of my brain. You put them back there!

Hon said...

I checked these conclusions with a certain (careful and esteemed) NT scholar and he agreed. *Phew!*

He writes:

I agree that the commentaries dodge the issue, and either won't use the word 'fear' (it is often avoided in the English translations), or consider it is inappropriate or unworthy to speak of fear. Hebrews and the Bible generally doesn't seem to have a problem, and neither should we.