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

In him who does not know God, and must be anything but satisfied with himself, fear towards God is as reasonable as it is natural, and serves powerfully towards the development of his true humanity. Neither the savage nor the self-sufficient sage is rightly human. The humanity has to be born in each, and for this birth everything natural must do its part. Until love, which is the truth towards God, is able to cast out fear, it is well that fear should hold. It is a bond between man and God that can be broken only by the tightening of an infinitely closer bond. God must be terrible to those that are far from him; they must prefer a devil, because of his supreme selfishness, to a God who will die for his creatures, and insists upon giving himself to them, insists upon their being unselfish and blessed like himself. They love their poor existence as it is; God loves it as it must be—and they fear him.

Although he loves them utterly, God does not tell them there is nothing in him to make them afraid. That would be to drive them from him forever.  To remove that fear from their hearts, save by letting them know his love with its purifying fire, would be to give them up utterly to the power of evil.

Commentary

by Jess Lederman

I love George MacDonald's use of Rev 1:17-18 as the basis for his sermon, The Fear of God. It is the last time that a visitor from the Heavenly Realm--in this case, no one less than the Lord Himself!--appears to a mortal and utters the words, "Fear not" (or "Do not be afraid"); but it's not at all the first time.

Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her not to fear; as the angel who appeared to Zacharaiah told him; and the host of angels told the shepherds in the field to "fear not." One possibility, of course, is that this is merely Divine Protocol: when you materialize before a human--with or without wings--try to avoid causing panic, screams of terror, and heart attacks. Eminently sensible! But of course it just might be more than that. 

It just might be an integral aspect of the Good News. It's no accident that the incidents I mentioned above all take place as the Word is becoming flesh; the Lord is coming into the world. Fear not; salvation is at hand. 

We gain a little more insight from the words of the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream, after he'd discovered that the woman he was legally bound to marry was pregnant. He'd been planning to "dismiss her quietly," but the angel tells him, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife." Ah! "Fear not" isn't just about a negative--living with the absence of fear--it's also about having the courage to do things that common sense and custom and everything in the world around you says is pure foolishness (or worse). 

Fear not, and do the work of the Kingdom of Heaven. His will be done, on earth, today--by you and me!