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Being God-Fearing

by Tim O'Hearn

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Hugo, Andrew. 9/11. Terrorist bombings, gas attacks. War in Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, anywhere. Bird flu, Asian flu, anthrax, smallpox, mad cow disease. Meth houses, crackheads, spouse and child abuse. What do you have to fear?

I used to live in Southern California. We often heard about the “great earthquake” that was coming. A satire magazine called The Journal of Irreproducible Results once published an article saying that the great California earthquake would be caused by the weight of all the National Geographic magazines stored in garages throughout southern California. So I did my part to save California. I moved, with all my National Geographics, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Then the other day I heard about some earthquakes hitting that state. What do you have to fear?

Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that the first section of the newspaper he looked at was the sports page “because the sports page records men’s accomplishments while the front page records men’s failures.” Many people have adopted his practice under the theory that if you don’t know about it what do you have to fear?

Solomon says there is something, or someone, you have to fear. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good, or whether evil.” (Eccl 12:13-14) Rabbi Israel Rudman says (www.e-geress.org, August 10, 2001)

People think that the choice is between being a G-d-fearing person or nothing. But it is a misconception. The choice is between being a G-d-fearing person or being an AIDS-fearing person or unemployment-fearing person.

Jesus further emphasized this choice between fearing God or fearing less pressing matters. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:26) There is something worse than death, and only God has power over that.

Jesus goes on to tell his followers not to fear (Matt 10:31). This is the paradox of fearing God. When one has that fear, he need have no other. The fear of God casts out all other fears. This explains an unusual choice of words in one passage. After the angel told the women that Jesus was risen from the tomb, “they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy.” (Matt 28:8) Fear and joy are not usually words used to describe the same person at the same instant. Acts 9:31 uses another such an unusual juxtaposition: “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” When it is the fear of the Lord, fear and comfort do not exclude each other.

Some people will say that the “fear of God” is only awe, and not the same as fear of death or destruction. This is not necessarily true. While this fear may eventually develop, or possibly degenerate, into some sort of fearless awe it usually begins the way the scripture describes it, as true fear of God. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:28-29) Verse 29 indicates that this is a fear based on God as a consuming fire, not mere reverence. Paul further associates this fear with trembling. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Php 2:12-13)

It is true that we should love God, and want to do his will because of that love. Until we are perfected in that goal, then it is healthy and helpful to maintain a certain level of that fear of God and how he can punish us. Others try to get us to fear everything from bad breath to drinking the wrong beer, from flu to fluoride. What do you have to fear? Only God, and then you need fear nothing else.