Monday, October 01, 2018 - Updated: 12:48 pm
QUESTION: I hear people talk about “fearing” God. If God is such a loving God, why should we be afraid?
ANSWER: In our human history, when people experienced something they could not comprehend, they usually attributed it to the work of some supreme being. The internal feeling that accompanied such recognition is often described as “fear.” It was a natural response to something that was beyond what they could understand or control.
This unique kind of fear was seen in the experience of Moses before the burning bush or on the mountain of the Lord. The Scriptures record the actions of God on behalf of the Israelites against the forces of Pharaoh as “fearful and terrible deeds” (Exodus 34:10).
Yet, while Israel understood this aspect of fear, her experience of the divine was balanced by the revelation of a God who was also loving and intent on doing good. For example, in the Book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 6), we find strong directives from an all-powerful God. Yet, in that same chapter we see God speaking of love: “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
For the people of Israel then, fear came to be understood more as reverence in the presence of the Almighty or a sense of awe at wonderful deeds. It is in this context that the Wisdom literature can proclaim “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28, Psalms 111:10 and Proverbs 1:7).
With all of this as a background, the New Testament describes the awe that overcame the disciples as they experienced the works Jesus performed (Mark 4:41, Luke 5:26). Following the return of the Lord Jesus to heaven, the infant church continued its awe as it witnessed the deeds accomplished by the power of the Spirit (Acts 2:43 and 2 Corinthians 5:11).
From all of this, there seems to be several meanings we might attach to the word fear. Among these is a type of fear that is most rightfully a sense of awe. That necessarily remains in us because we are human, and God is divine.
There is also a fear of punishment, and especially one’s fear of loss or separation from God. This sense of fear diminishes as one appreciates the full impact of the Scriptures and the mercy of Christ that is revealed there. There remains the reality of God’s justice, but that too must be balanced by an appreciation of the God of love. It is important to appreciate that balance and to enable it to have its impact in our lives. This process, however, takes time. As our love of God and neighbor grows, it seems our fear diminishes.
One Scriptural passage that might prove helpful is found in the First Letter of John: “Love has no room for fear; rather, perfect love casts out all fear. And since fear has to do with punishment, love is not yet perfect in one who is afraid” (1 John 4:18).
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.