Among the two most repeated biblical commands are those that call us to fear God and those that call us not to fear. Today, I aim to demonstrate how these two key commands work together for our good.
Healthy fear is a precious attribute, as my toddler once reminded me. I had decided that he would lose his persistent fascination for our treacherous stairway only by experiencing the law of gravity. So, I planned a controlled fall. I let him climb up the stairs. When he planted his derriere in midair, I held my arms far enough away to let him experience the terrifying sense of falling before I caught him. It took a few trials before the stairway finally lost its appeal. At last, my boy had a healthy fear of the stairs, or rather, of God's ordering of the universe, as in the law of gravity. He was thereafter content to play in the safe spaces lovingly designated by his parents. That was better for everyone.
That's how it is with the fear of God. It's not merely a reverential feeling, but rather, an unwavering compliance with God's ordering of things — material and non-material, temporal and eternal. It's a certainty in both the risk of violation and the blessing of adherence to God's ordering. The fear of God is an inner restraint on our foolish bents. It compels us to rest trustfully in God and His promise of grace. The fear of God casts out all other fears, as expressed in the hymn, Amazing grace:
- 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
In summary, the fear of God preserves us within safe, God-ordained boundaries. It empowers us to live to the fullest in a fallen world, unfettered by anxious fear over lesser forces.
Why, then, do we shy away from the oft-repeated command to fear God? Perhaps, we don't wish to convey a punitive God, or we assume that fear is always bad. Perhaps, we have yet to taste the nourishing fruit of the following promise:
Psalm 112:1 – Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. (NIV)
This exact promise came true for the Hebrew midwives during the Israelite captivity in Egypt, after the cruel Pharaoh demanded them to annihilate the newborn males:
Exodus 1:17,21 – The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. (NIV)
History is littered with the tragic outcomes of those who "just followed orders" in fear of a tyrant ruler rather than in fear of God. Their consciences had no brakes to stop them from slaughtering untold numbers.
As for you and me, it's often easier to simply "go with the flow", rather than to challenge the status quo and risk repercussions. Yet, in so doing, we could be quietly complicit to the breakdown of God's protective ordering for humanity. Only the fear of God can help us to recognize and overcome disorderly forces.
Prayer: Almighty God, transform all our misdirected fears into a resolute fear of You alone, that we may courageously fulfill our divine calling to shine Your pure, lovely light of grace amidst destructive energies in this fallen world. Amen.