Let those who fear the Lord say, His love endures forever (Psalm 118:4 NIV).
It was the British philosopher and social critic Bertrand Russell (died 1970) who famously declared that all religion is born out of fear.
Russell pushed further, raising the stakes with these incendiary words: “Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things.”
Not surprisingly, the Bible makes a different pairing.
Rather than fear and cruelty, the psalmist links fear and love.
In an improbable, yet vivid contrast, this assertion demonstrates that those who recognize God’s love also fear Him:“Let those who fear the Lord say, His love endures forever”.
When it comes to the fear of God, one who appears to have understood the concept deeply and perceptively, was American Bible teacher A.W.Tozer who died in 1963 after having pastored in Toronto.
Think carefully about his declaration: “No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God.”
But what is it to fear the Lord?
Is it reverential awe? Deep and profound respect? Is it more closely aligned to trepidation when considering His incalculable power and explosive wrath?
We understand awe, respect, reverence as we regard the Lord….but fear?
The direct opposite of fear is fearless. But maybe the most appropriate antonym for fear is peace.
That was such a valued concept to the Jew of antiquity, that their common greeting – as it is today – was “shalom”. The irony is that Israel as a nation had so few years of peace in its history. But more than political peace, the term spoke of the yearning for calm, settled, inner harmony of self together with the absence of conflict, violence….and fear. The Bible’s solution is reconciliation through the Cross of Christ; to be reconciled to the One from whom mankind has been estranged.
The One at whom human hatred, hostility and enmity was directed, is now the One to be adored, loved, worshiped.
Maybe our best guide is the prophet Isaiah, one of a handful of men in history who had the overwhelming experience of seeing God (aside from those who observed Christ in the “enfleshment”). In his vision of Yahweh exalted in the throne-room of heaven, rather than exulting in his most unique of experiences, Isaiah rather expressed dread and fear – almost remorse – in effect calling down a curse on himself: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV).
In part, Isaiah was recognizing and declaring his own weakness, inconsistency, and dark sin when exposed to the blazing glory of the holiness of God.
As I consider this topic of what it is to authentically fear God, I recognize that it must take a lifetime to merely begin to understand it. And yet, I am also reminded that the most frequent prohibition from the Lord Jesus was His direction to “Fear not”.
Takeaway: may the Lord increase my capacity to recognize the awesome power and dreadful holiness of God, evoking in my heart and mind reverence and fear. May I know what it is to fear Him; to think like, act like, develop attitudes consistent with fearing the Triune God, Yahweh of the Bible.