To Fear God??
To Fear God??
About forty years ago I once heard an Irish -American pastor, Alan Meenan, say this: “Modern-day Americans are afraid of many things… but not of God. By contrast, our Puritan ancestors of the 17th century were not afraid of most things, but they were afraid of God.” I have never forgotten these words.
Recently my wife and I were reading in Proverbs, a book of wisdom written by Solomon. Right at the beginning, Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” So in its very first chapter, the wisdom book of Proverbs says that true wisdom begins with the fear of God! Many modern people do not like this verse, and there are at least two reasons:
First, many modern people totally reject a God who is to be feared. Somehow they fear the effects of the force of gravity if they were to step off a cliff into a chasm, but they do not fear opposing or ignoring the God who created the universe. Secondly (and on the surface more convincingly) those who reject the need to fear God point out that the Christian New Testament presents God as a God of love, and I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
So does I John 4:18 mean that we can do away with the idea of the fear of God? I don’t think so.
First, what we read in Proverbs 1:7 is echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament. Proverbs 15: 33 tells us, “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” This verse reminds us to be humble, something many modern-day Americans are not. We hear this theme echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament: Psalm 110: 10, says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever” Job 28:28 says, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” Finally Isaiah 8:13 says, “But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”
Secondly, as my wife pointed out to me, the New Testament itself, and Jesus himself, mention the need to fear God. At Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, "Don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
So what is the answer to the question, “should we fear God or not?” I like the verse of the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace” where John Newton wrote, “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.”
People who ignore God, who don’t care what He thinks, or who regard Him as non-existent or irrelevant, need to fear God. Their consciences may be so seared and self-absorbed that only the fear of God (fear that God may harm them, judge them, or bring them to an end) can get through to them. Then once God has gotten their attention, His Love can convert them. Romans 2:4 says “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.”
Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is not the end. The end of wisdom is to be so focused on God and on His love and forgiveness poured out in Christ, that we no longer have any fear of Him at all!
To reprise John Newton: “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed.”
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.This column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News .