What does it mean to have fear of God? Scripture says that it is the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom, so what does that mean? Does it mean to be frightened in the way that I am of spiders?
A couple of passages help me to understand this idea of fearing God a bit better. One is Isaiah 66:2, which reads,
All these things (the heavens, and earth) my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
Much of my Christian existence, both inside and outside of addiction, was spent trying to understand, debate, parse, dissect, even twist God’s word. Rarely, if ever, did I “tremble.” I did not have the “woe is me” moment Isaiah himself had in chapter 6 of this same book, where he was confronted by the words of a holy God, and knew he was a dead man lest someone step in between he and this God.
Do you tremble over God’s word? Does it stand above you, naming you, judging you, pushing you; or do you stand above it, telling God “You can’t really be like that”?
Another passage that speaks to me about the fear of God comes from my favorite Psalm, 119. It reads,
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules (Psalm 119:43)
Here, the Psalmist rightly understands that should God remove His hand from his life, if he should be without the words of God, he is ruined. It is wholly by the grace of God that he can stand, and as such, he fears God doing what later on the writer of the Revelation of Jesus Christ will threaten the churches with should they not repent: the removal of his favor/blessing.
Do you fear God removing his hand from your life? Or do you presume upon his kindness and mercy, assuming that because nothing terrible has happened you have nothing to fear? Perhaps God is not watching, or doesn’t really care about how you live your life in private?
The following is an excerpt from Steve Gallagher’s book, Living in Victory, explaining a biblical fear of God and what it looks like. I think he’s spot on:
I can respect God, not just because He has the power to hurt me, but because, in spite of that power and the fact that I have endlessly provoked Him, He has been kind to me. Jesus said of God, “…He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35) As this kindness, in the face of my rebellion and ingratitude, becomes more real to me, a deep reverence begins to form in my heart.
Fear is the sense of being overwhelmed. One aspect of our fear of God comes from being overwhelmed by His kindness, mercy, and love. The deeper the revelation of God, the deeper the sense of being overwhelmed by His goodness. It is in the light of this understanding that we see the words reverence and awe as accurate synonyms for fear.
Another thing that creates fear of God is the realization that it is only His grace that keeps us from falling back into the pit He pulled us out of…fearing the Lord means fearing the loss of His grace that keeps us from our sin. It means fearing a separation form Him and being left to oneself.
The man who really knows God fears being separated from Him. He might struggle with tempting thoughts about things he has done in the past, but the thought of returning to that old way of life strikes dread in his heart. That man knows only too well what life without God is like. Despite all the alluring temptations, the thought of life outside God’s presence is frightening… Those who have never been broken by God usually have little fear of Him.