Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one? Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?
Sometimes it is so easy for us to take things apart and look at them piece by piece, and forget the big picture in the process. Remember that fear does not exist in a vacuum. The same God who is the God of love is also the God who judges every man according to his deeds. He is just because He is merciful, and merciful because He is just. So what other attributes of God do we need to remember as we consider how fearsome He is?
God is all-powerful. He created the world, and there is nothing He cannot do with it. All throughout the Old Testament, we have pictures of the immeasurable power of God, from the creation, to the flood, to the plagues of Egypt. The history of Israel, the Psalms, and the speeches in the book of Job all show that God is worthy to be feared. When we think of someone wanting to be feared, it is usually a human being who wants to be in control of others, and wants everyone to know that they are in control. They want fear to do all of the work for them so that staying in charge is easy. God really is in control. He doesn’t need to show off His power and use fear just to keep us in line. Often, His shows of strength were to remind His people of how weak the enemies of God are (Exodus), and to remind those with a great deal of power that they were not to play God (Daniel).
God is separated from all things that are evil (Psalm 5:4). He is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Darkness and light cannot live in the same place. If there is light in the room, there is no darkness. If the light leaves the room, darkness can return.
And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
This is why we are so often afraid to enter the presence of God. When we love evil, we can feel the darkness in us being burned away in the presence of the true light. The devil is very good at convincing us that this means we can never be at peace with God. We identify with darkness, but know that God is light. We then fall into the trap of believing we are condemned to Hell whenever we discover a sin we had overlooked before. Here is where there is hope:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Darkness cannot stand in God’s presence, but we can ask God to have our love of darkness surgically removed, and He is more than willing to do so! He can take away anything in us that is at war with Him, so that we will be able to have joy in His presence rather than wanting to run and hide. That is why there are two different responses to fearing God for the enemy of God and for the child of God. An enemy refuses to leave his sin, and hates the thought of it being taken away. A child fears the pain of the surgery and the unknown of the life afterward, but trusts his Father to do what is best for him.
We often think of love and fear as opposites because we are used to fear and hate being so close together in our experiences. There are so many things in this world that can cause destruction that it becomes easy to find numerous examples of evil and fallen things that we fear. It is hard to think of things that we love as being fearsome at the same time. Waterfalls, fire, dogs, and driving can all lose their loveliness if we personally experience the side of them that can be destructive. Some of us like roller-coasters of skydiving because of the thrill of controlled fear, but it is very hard to find an earthly example that can do justice to fearing and loving the Lord. The only example I can think of are the people of the Lord themselves. There is not one godly person in the Bible who did not face great hardship. Even Jesus’ own mother and step-father faced the most humiliating and difficult circumstances in bringing a child into the world. Following Jesus is a terrifying thing because it mortifies our flesh.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Those who follow Jesus do not face an easy life. At times it seems that much of our lives are destroyed when we come to follow Him. That is not only because God has enemies, but also because God allows the things He loves to be broken so that they can be glorified beyond what they ever could have been before they were broken. Thing of how much more Job had after the Lord restored him. Think of Jesus Himself after He became flesh and was broken before His enemies. That refining process still scares me. Just thinking about what the Lord might have me face next as I write this has made my stomach a little uncomfortable because I know that He always considers me ready for more than what I can handle on my own. He’s always making me nervous! But then He is always showing me more of Himself that I never would have seen if we were going at my pace, and He is making me more like Him the more He takes out of me. As much as it scares me, I so much more desperately want to be with Him where He is working.
And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
for our God is a consuming fire.
God is trustworthy to keep His promises, and He has not been shy in making them. He is the God of all power, we have nothing to offer Him for a bribe, and He allows His people to meet with some of the most terrible trials imaginable. Yet, in the midst of all of this, He has promised us joy, comfort, and peace. That is not to say that God will give us pleasure and laughter in the midst of every circumstance. We often expect this to be true, and that is why we so often hate fear. Fear can be terribly unpleasant, but the Lord uses it to teach us trust. There have been many times for me already when it seems as though everything is going the absolute opposite of the plan God has told me He will accomplish. Those are times when I have to choose to believe what He says in His Word more than what the world around me is trying to convince me is true. It is like a plant having all of it’s green chopped off until it is just the roots. That pruning can ache for so long, but those roots will dig deeper while they are not focused on feeding the leaves, and deep roots are terribly difficult to pull up. David speaks constantly in the Psalms of the painful circumstanced the Lord had him face, and yet he always fell back on the promise that God would not abandon him. Job is a man famous for having faced more than most of us could imagine, yet he said,
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.
That is not to say that Job was more faithful to God than God was to him. Quite the contrary. But he knew God well enough to know that there must be a bigger picture that he could not yet understand. The more time we spend with God, and the more we read of Him in His Word, the more we come to trust who He is, and believe that what He does really is best for us, and for countless others He will influence through us.
God is unbelievably humble. I felt weak and inferior when I stood in front of that tiger in the museum, knowing that there would be no way for me to beat it at its own game if it had been living. I cannot even imagine now insignificant I should feel in the unfiltered presence of El Elyon (God Most High). And yet, He likes to make me laugh. He feels my pain when I grieve, and He wants to teach me to do work that He could accomplish without so much as the snap of fingers. When we keep in mind that God is fearsome and omnipotent, we often lose sight of just now much He wants to be involved in the lives of such insignificant people. What scares me about tigers, landslides, and snapping turtles is that they don’t know me from anyone. It isn’t personal, it’s just what those things do. But the fearsome, omnipotent God is my Dad. If I felt His presence wash over me while standing in front of a real tiger, it would be very hard for me not to grin or even laugh. Why? Because the powerful cat is just one of His playthings. It may still be able to hurt me or even kill me, but only if He says so. Moses was able to encourage the fleeing Israelites with these words:
But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Take your stand and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.
The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
I cannot say that Moses was unafraid of the Egyptians when he spoke these words, but He feared the Lord, and there was no room for any other sort of fear to make decisions for him. It is the same promise given in Joshua 1:9 and all throughout the Old Testament, in the Great Commission, and straight through to Revelation.
We have no reason to be afraid of fear itself. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fountain of life, and keeps us untouched by evil. In the darkest circumstances, it is like hearing the trumpet blast and the thundering hooves of a faithful king’s army. Remember whom you have believed, and feel the thrill of His power and love.
I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul know it very well.