Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
The fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Relate: In his lecture “Why I am not a Christian”, Bertrand Russel said, “Religion is based primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing.” This is a common complaint or argument of those on the outside looking in. I have had atheists point to both of the verses that popped up in today’s reading as arguments against Christianity.
Are we supposed to fear God? Yes. But… No. Some people love snow. I’m not one of them, but there are people who love this season. But that doesn’t mean that they will go running around outside in shorts and a T-shirt in the middle of a blizzard. Well, at least the same ones won’t. I kid you not, I just looked out my window as I was typing to see someone doing just that. I guess it takes all types.
Anyway, I have siblings and friends that love boxing and mixed martial arts. It isn’t my thing, but I know people who have competed in amateur and even trained with pros. I don’t think one of those guys would even consider stepping into the cage for a death match against Conor McGregor. You can love a thing and still have a healthy respect for it.
Both these analogies limp. Perhaps one more. If I am jogging down the street and a dog comes out to bark at me, I will have a healthy fear of it. I know it is just protecting its home or its territory and I am not in any real danger. I’m not about to stop and start petting the thing or to break into the house it came out of, but I know that as long as I stay on the sidewalk I will be fine. Now if that dog had bloodshot eyes and was foaming at the mouth… That is a whole different level of fear.
React: Those who are deliberately misinterpreting are doing so in one of two ways. The first is that they believe these verses are saying we should be terrified of God. Like the rabid dog, God is out to get us and the only thing we can do is run away or stay far from Him. Their thought is that verses like these demonstrate that God’s intentions towards us are not good.
The second way they misinterpret it is to think that because God will not allow them to do whatever they want, He is not good. They say that a truly good God would be a God of love and kindness, mercy and grace. Yes. But a good God is also a God of righteousness, justice, and truth. Going back to the dog analogy, that dog wouldn’t be all that great if I could break into its owner’s house with no consequences. And it wouldn’t be worthy of respect if I could kick the dog without fear of retaliation. In the same way, when we do evil or dishonor God, of course there will be consequences. The power and goodness of God demand it. By definition, we should and do have a fear, a healthy reverence of God. But this is a far cry from an absolute terror of Him. The difference is found in that we know his intentions towards us are good.
In the truest sense of the Word, God You are awesome. Let me never even begin to lose a healthy fear, a respect for both Your greatness and Your goodness. It truly is the foundation upon which all true wisdom is built. You are great and Your plans for me are greater still.