The Fear of God

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last and Living one.

— Revelation 1:17-18

It is not alone the first beginnings of religion that are full of fear. So long as love is imperfect, there is room for torment. That love only which fills the heart—and nothing but love can fill any heart—is able to cast out fear. The thing that is unknown, yet known to be, will always be more or less formidable. When it is known as immeasurably greater than we, and as having claims and making demands upon us, the more vaguely they are apprehended, the more room is there for anxiety; and when the conscience is not clear, this anxiety may well mount to terror.  Those fear him most who most imagine him like their own evil selves, only beyond them in power. Power without love, dependence where is no righteousness, wake a worship without devotion. Neither, where the notion of God is better, but the conscience is troubled, will his goodness do much to exclude apprehension. The same consciousness of evil and of offence which gave rise to the bloody sacrifice is still at work in the minds of most who call themselves Christians. Naturally, the first emotion of man towards the being he calls God, but of whom he knows so little, is fear.

Where it is possible that fear should exist, it is well it should exist, cause continual uneasiness, and be cast out by nothing less than love.


by Jolyn Canty

We think of fear as a negative thing to experience, and Webster’s defines it is as:  "A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid."  God is love, perfect love.  While man loves, his love is not perfect.  Man doesn’t fully understand God’s love, so man does not comprehend perfect love.  Man has an inherent compass – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Right comes from love, and wrong comes from the lack of love.  Fear exists where love is absent or uncertain.

C.S. Lewis explains this dilemma in Mere Christianity: “This is the terrible fix we are in.  If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless.  But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again.  We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it.  God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.  He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.  Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun.  They need to think again.  They are still only playing with religion.  Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it.  And we have reacted the wrong way.”

It is good to fear.  Fear can cause us to make important choices that can mean life or death.  We should fear sin because of the eventual consequences that sin will undoubtedly bring, but we should not fear the perfect love of God and its ability to draw us closer to Him.  Our fear must be tethered to and calmed by His love.  As MacDonald so beautifully reminds us: “Where it is possible that fear should exist, it is well it should exist, cause continual uneasiness, and be cast out by nothing less than love.”

I often pray that my children and I will walk in the fear of Him, because the scriptures say that a holy fear of Him is the beginning of wisdom.  That fear is the protector, the necessary component that guides us to abide under the shadow of His wings. But we mustn’t make fear our goal; we must make understanding the depths of His love our deepest yearning.

While driving home with my Grandson and listening to a classical music station, I heard Beethoven’s 8th Symphony.  The beautiful music took my thoughts to the perfect love of God that overcomes my imperfect love and encourages me to deal with my sin.