Fear God? Really?


The Bible seems to teach that we should, on some level, be afraid of God. One passage in particular, one that gets plastered on Sunday Morning church billboards all over the country, literally reads “Fear God.” Some people see this and hear “Don’t screw with God or He’ll screw with you.” Some see another opportunity to forget religion altogether.

If there is a God, ie. something that’s a) capable of creating our world and b) in charge of the whole thing, there should be some level of respect, not just for the work that he does on a day-to-day basis, but for the fact that he a) knows more than we do and b) can do whatever he wants – make it rain, hurl lightning bolts, destroy the cosmos, etc. So maybe there should be some fear, sort of the way we would fear Superman – as nice as he is you don’t want to get on his bad side.

But I don’t think the Bible’s admonition to “Fear God” means “Be afraid of God,” or “Don’t piss him off.”

Take a moment to make a list of all the things you are afraid of – the negative things that fill your mind throughout the day, the things that “stress” you out (let’s be honest about stress, it’s a cutesy, contemporary moniker for fear – plain and simple). We worry about what others think of us, we’re scared of not performing well at work, or losing our job. We’re “stressed” about how our life will turn out – will we get the happy ending that everyone else seems to be living? Money, kids, marriage, money, health, politics, money, economics, terrorism, global warming, guilt, shame, money. Fear. We live with a ton of it.

I think what the Bible is getting at is something more akin to “If you want to be scared of something, if you want to fill your head with “what if?” be scared of God. Be scared of this thing that a) can do whatever it wants and b) loves you without condition – even if you don’t believe in him. “Fear not” or some derivative, occurs so many times in the Old and New Testaments. It’s also one of the many commandments Jesus gave to his disciples. To “Fear God,” is to ultimately be at peace.

Jesus dealt with a ton of fear about God and what happens to people who step out of line. In His world it was believed that suffering was punishment for wrongdoing, and wealth was blessing for right-doing. The “sinners” ran around scared to death, wondering when their punishment would come. The “righteous” lived afraid of stepping out of line and losing their wealth as a result, while looking down on people who weren’t blessed, like they were. Either way – “stress” everywhere.

While Jesus never did anything but honor and uphold the Jewish scriptures, He seemed to believe that this era of focusing on right and wrong was over. Something new had arrived, but you couldn’t be part of it and be scared of God at the same time. Fear had to be removed. It’s no surprise that Jesus’ messages were full of “fear not,” and “trust me”

But Jesus also said “repent,” something that’s typically translated as “stop sinning” – a truly horrible translation (“Repent” in both Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew means “turn”). Typically, when Jesus said “repent” he included the phrase “because the Kingdom of Heaven is here” (which was something his Jewish audience was expecting to arrive any day now). “Repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is here” basically means “Turn from your current agenda, leave it, drop it, there’s something better – right in front of you, and you can have it. Trust me.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think God has his rules (I get alot of complaints from conservative religious folk about how I forget to talk about rules, morality, etc – this is for you). God wants us to live a good life, and there are rules for that, even if you don’t believe in God. But I know people who have done a great job being part of this new thing that Jesus talked about. They’re people who live with courage, respect, great influence and great (non-material) wealth. And yes, there are rules that they follow, but they don’t follow them to stay in God’s good graces, or to avoid lightening bolts, or hell. They follow the rules to live. Really live. They’re not obnoxious, irrelevant, offensive religious people who talk about nothing but morality and what everyone should be doing or not doing. They’re people that other people love being around (we all love being around people who are truly living). They “fear God” but not as you might think.

To “fear God” means to trust Him, to respect what He is, to ultimately believe that He’s got something for us – something that transcends religion, something that’s more akin to the life that we’re all dying to live. If we do it right, our “fear” of Him will replace the scads of other fears that we carry with us all. day. long – the fears that are keeping us from the Good life that God so desperately wants us to live.

If you know the story well, you know that He literally went through hell so we could have it.

Fear God, turn aside from all that other crap you’ve been carrying, for the life you so desperately want has arrived.

36 thoughts on “Fear God? Really?

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
    Yes He loves us, Yes He gave Himself for us, Yes He is for us but He is also GOD, creator, sustainer, the One who speaks and worlds happen. If that doesn’t inspire awe, respect, submission to His authority then we aren’t comprehending who He is.
    As you say it’s not about trembling in case He smites us but awe at His glory and power; recognition that He is God and we are not.

    • Amen, but it’s also supposed to travel far beyond mere awe, etc. The glory is there so that people would be attracted, accept the love and authority, and DO SOMETHING with it.

  • I wish that I could take credit for writing this. Powerful message. And thanks for defining stress for what it really is. I needed to realize that all of the things that I am “stressing” about are just an expression of my fears. I haven’t known quite how to handle stress, but I have been given instructions on handling fear. “Perfect love casts out fear”. ” Fear not, for I am with you…” etc.

  • Well said, and yet another excellent example of how the bible continues to be a source for understanding ourselves.
    This reminds me of another verse that is frequently understood on the negative end of the spectrum: “Vengance is mine”, said by God. In my religious instruction, this was interpreted to mean “God is the ultimate punisher’, hence another reason to fear him.
    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks sees it differently: ‘vengance’, getting even, revenge, and all the other typically human reactions to having harm done to you, are all things that weaken your relationship to God. As Mark so skillfully points out, if we believe that God is ultimately in charge, we can give these attitudes up to Him; leave it to Him to insure ultimate justice, leaving room in our lives for forgiveness, reconciliation and ultimately our own spiritual growth.

  • Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh–I LOVE this!!! Excellently and simply put. I recall when I used to “fear” God–like I really needed one more thing to be fearful about (everyday was spent trying to avoid landmines in the home). But because He’s so faithful in His love, He eventually steered me to understand that “fear” meant reverence, respect, honor; and that repenting from my rebellion was about not wanting to hurt the ONE who loved me most and unconditionally (not about rules just for rules sake–His rules are for our protection). Your ending statement sums it up so well, adding to my understanding and appreciation. God bless you and the fam, Brother!!

  • As an atheist I feel like a stranger in a strange land here. If it’s absolutely necessary to create a deity why not create a loving one? Fear is the tool of the tyrant…

    • I love having atheist folk on my blog – you’re welcome to post your thoughts any time. I think Christians in particular are trying their best to believe in God as he’s portrayed in the Bible. Unfortunately, when religious folk read about rules, commandments, punishment, etc., it’s all to easy to look down on others – “God loves me not you” – etc., which leaves the honest, humble folk scared to death of what God’s really like.

  • Great! Loved it! Thanks for writing; you’re awesome!! I struggled so much with the term “Fear God” growing up. Now that my Christianity has matured, I do genuinely wonder what negative effect this has on new Christians or non-believers. I suppose I just need to pray that God reveals the true meaning behind these words to them.

  • I’ve always seen the “fear God” thing like the fear I have of my dad. I love my daddy and he loves me, but I do NOT want him upset with me, and I’m 53 years old! When I was a kid, I took obedience VERY seriously, because my daddy was the man of the house. You did NOT at any time, in any way disrespect my mother. That would get you the justified Wrath of Daddy, and even if all he did was look angry and disappointed, that was enough. I wanted to please my dad and I wanted him to be proud of me, like, “Look what a great kid I made.”

    I’ve read that people get their idea of who God is from their father figure. Well some people don’t have a very good father figure, and my daddy was a flawed human as much as any other. But our relationship provides a great model of what God intended for our lives. I can run to my daddy at any time, and even at 82 years old he will do whatever it takes or give me the best advice he possibly can to help me out.

    The awesome thing about Father God is that he doesn’t get old, he doesn’t leave us, and he never runs out of patience for us no matter how often we behave badly. Fear God’s wrath? You bet. Choose relationship instead of rebellion? Now you’ve got the picture.

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