What are you afraid of? A survey completed in 2018 found that at least in the United States, fear is on the rise. The top fear was of corrupt government officials, and other fears were the environment, not having enough money in the future, and those we love becoming ill or dying. It is understandable that all of these things would cause fear in people – they are all in many ways beyond our control as individuals. And we fear things that we cannot control.
The Bible can seem a little contradictory at first regarding fear. We are told to “fear God”, but then we are also told to “fear not”. But the inexplicable thing about the right kind of fear of God is that it results in the ability to “fear not”.
Most often fear is not an intentional emotion – it is an emotion that is a reaction to something. Many times in the Old Testament, the fear of God came on the nations around when they saw what God did for His people.
This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee. (Deuternomy 2:25)
This kind of fear is the kind of fear we may experience in reaction to events and circumstances in our lives. The fear of God, however, is not a reaction – it is something that is learned.
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it. (Deuteronomy 31:12-13)
How do we learn to fear God?
Hearing or reading the words of the Bible allow us to learn to fear God because we find out that: He is the Creator of everything (Genesis 1:1); He set the bound for the sea (Jeremiah 5:22); He gives the rain and the harvest (Jeremiah 6:24); He brought His people out of Egypt with a strong arm (Exodus 13:14); He is the only God (Deuteronomy 4:39); He is holy and expects His people to be also (Leviticus 19:2); He is just in all his ways (Psalm 89:14); He forgives but will not clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7); He will take vengeance on His adversaries (Nahum 1:2). When we think of God in these terms, it should create a healthy fear inside us.
The first occurrence of the fear of God in the Bible is when Adam and Eve realized they were naked before God and hid themselves in the garden. Adam and Eve had not experienced fear of God before, but now they knew what it was. The fear of God does not just make us afraid, it modifies our behaviour.
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.(Proverbs 16:6)
Fear is also connected with faith. If you fear something, first of all you allow for its existence. Proverbs tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). As the knowledge of God grows, the fear related to His power and ability so much greater than our own, comes to be reverence as His mercy, truth, and justice becomes clear. He is not a God who uses His power in unpredictable ways. Instead the fear of God is strong confidence and a place of refuge (Proverbs 14:26).
What does it mean to fear God?
The book of Leviticus gives us some of the results of fearing God: One who feared God would not curse the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; they would give honor to the elderly; they would not oppress one another; they would support poor relations and take no interest or profit from him; they would pay them as hired servants and not treat them ruthlessly. These are examples of the law that God gave His people. Fearing was connected very closely with keeping His commands. Perhaps it would begin with a fear of consequences, but it was meant to develop into something much deeper than that. The ultimate result of reverence for God which would result in heartfelt keeping of His commandments would in effect make God’s people like unto Him in character.
How does God behave towards those who fear Him?
We are told that God fights for those who fear Him (Deuteronomy 3:22); that His angel encamps around those who fear Him (Psalm 34:7); that there is no want to those who fear Him (Psalm 34:9); that His mercy is towards those who fear Him (Psalm 103:11); and that He taketh pleasure in those who fear Him (Psalm 147:11).
And that brings us to the fact that God is all you need to fear. With the God who knows the end from the beginning as our shepherd, we fear no evil (Psalm 23:4). With the God who can part the Red Sea on our side, of whom shall we be afraid? (Psalm 27:1, 118:6). With the God “who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure” as our refuge and strength, we have no need to fear even if the earth is moved or the mountains are cast into the sea (Psalm 46:1,2). With the God who can raise the dead, we have no need to fear even death itself.