For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 1st Chronicles 15:25
That verse from 1st Chronicles is one of more than fifty times in the Bible when fearing God is viewed as a virtue. Yet for all that frequency it may be one of the most ignored, even disputed concepts in all of Scripture. Why? Experience has taught me that anytime something so commonly found in the Bible is ignored or disputed it usually is because we don’t really understand what it means.
A friend of mine writes for http://www.probe.org. Her name is Sue Bohlin. Recently I read an article in which she talked about four questions that you should always ask when speaking with someone who disagrees with you. The first question is, “What do you mean by that?” followed by, “Where do you get your information, How do you know its true, and What if you’re wrong”. The first question needs to be asked when people say they don’t believe in the whole idea of being afraid of God. When it comes to fearing God, most people seem to think it means being terrorized by the thought that an angry and capricious deity may decide to smack you up side the head with a lightening bold for no good reason. As a result of that kind of thinking people decide that they don’t want to believe in a God like that so they give up on the God of the Bible all together. Well I don’t want to believe in a God like that and fortunately the Bible doesn’t want me to either. God is not some spiritual version of Freddie Kruger or Norman Bates. We are not to be terrorized by Him or the thought of Him. Jesus made that clear when he so often told the disciples, “Fear Not”.
Just by taking a look at the first half of 1st Chronicles 15:25 we can be sure that we are not talking about being terrorized by God. It says “great is the Lord and most worthy of praise”. God is amazing and should be adored and honored. That’s what it means when it says, “most worthy of praise”. The whole history of God’s relationship with His people is one of Him stepping in and caring for them, meeting their needs, protecting them, being their shield and defender, their Good Shepard. God is to be praised, not run from in fear. We are told that He loves His children to the point of coming into the world in Christ and giving Himself for them.
So what does it mean to fear God? I can’t help but make the analogy with my dad. He was 6’4″ and in many ways a disciplined and sometimes demanding father. I loved him, admired him, trusted him and in a certain way feared him. I was not terrorized by him, but I did have a very healthy respect for him. He was the boss, no doubt about it. There was just something about his presence that gave me a certain amount of awe for him. When the Bible speaks about fear of the Lord, that is what it means. The word for fear in the Hebrew is the word yare. It means to stand in awe of, to revere. When you stand in front of the Rocky Mountains for the first time, when you see the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when you hold your new born child, all these things can evoke a sense of awe, wonder and reverence. When we think of God, who He is and what He has done it should cause us to honor, worship and adore Him.
With that sense of awe and reverence comes a desire to follow and obey. The desire is not rooted in a need to avoid punishment but rather it is motivated by wanting to show respect. Far to often people approach God like He is some average Joe from down the street. Certainly we are invited into an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But that does not mean we treat Him like our golf partner or poker buddies. There needs to be a sense of being overwhelmed by the beauty, majesty, power, holiness and love of God. All of who God is should cause us to at times stand slack jawed before Him, speechless, overwhelmed, amazed. It should cause us to obey and follow Him because their is no other like Him. He is to be honored, respected, feared, above all gods. Nothing should demand our alliegance, worship or dedication like the Lord. That is at least in part what the Bible means by fearing God.