[first published in the monthly congregational Notes for July, 2020.]
When we read the word “fear” it is natural for us to default to the definition “an un-pleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm.” Experience has taught us that there are so many threats of “danger, pain or harm” in this life that common usage hardly ever refers to anything else! We may not have had to face the same threats as those in previous generations but concerns from loneliness, illness or finance can stir up the same unease just as easily. The future is unknown and fear of the unknown can paralyze; we do not know how to prepare, where to begin, or if anything we do will make any difference. Very likely there are many who are gripped by a fear of what this virus may do to us, our loved ones, our nation’s character and even to the world. We are living in difficult days.
This is where we discover the blessedness of another sort of fear which is so amazing, so counter-intuitive, that it is almost too good to be true! A truly wondrous fear that actually eliminates all other fears altogether, and not simply by distracting us.
The answer to all earthly human fears, the Bible assures us, is to “fear God”; but what is this fear? It sounds illogical to replace one fear with fear of something greater! But this is where the vagaries of the English language can confuse us. Not all “fear” is of the same sort. When we speak of “fearing God” we know it cannot be that we want “unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger” because He is to be our safety! This fearing God is positive; we are called to draw near to Him not run away as He draws near to us. We are called to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind & strength as we are overwhelmed by the awareness of His Beauty. This fear builds up the sense of respect and honour that God deserves because of who He is in Himself. It induces a sense of awe at His holy power (infinitely more moving than a thunderstorm and reaching far beyond the visible limits of the night sky) even as it is too intense for our understanding. It compels us to worship Him as we see that His wisdom is eternal and true. We trust Him because even when we cannot see how events will end we are assured that His infinite power and majesty is now devoted towards keeping us as His own, for eternity! No earthly event will thwart Him. If he cares for us, we need not be afraid—of anything! There is a lovely old hymn which concludes: Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then / Have nothing else to fear; Make you, His service, your delight, / Your wants shall be His care.
Honest refection will confirm that the ability to “fear God” and trust Him in this way has come to us only through the grace of God in Jesus. It is He who paid the penalty for our sin and bought for us the privilege of adoption as sons and daughters so that we can enter in to the full wonder of what it is to be created in the Image of God with a living hope for a blessed eternity. Though we may be beset by “unpleasant emotion caused by threats of danger, pain or harm” we can bring all this to Him and receive His peace in exchange, even when our faith is weak and our doubts are strong. His is a love that recognizes our fears and overcomes them (Matt 10:31; John 14:27) in a way that neither idol nor human strength can ever do.
How foolish, then, to refuse to “fear God” as the Bible calls us to do (Eccl 12:13). Such refusal is a deliberate confirmation of our sinfulness (Rom 1:18 & 3:8) and a rejection of that everlasting Gospel which is to be preached to the whole earth (Rev 14:6-7).
Without that Gospel, we will have no answer in the judgment. “Fear God”.