The fear of God

Our culture is truly impoverished and has lost its way because it has lost the fear of God. Yet it seems to me that many of the Christians who say such things have a mistaken understanding of what that fear is – and, therefore, of how to cultivate that Godly fear which is the beginning of wisdom and understanding.

We can seek God because we are afraid of other people, and we seek their approval, and if their language is of God then we will develop the language of God in order to conform. That is a conforming to the world, and not to the living God.

We can seek God because we are in terror before God, we are afraid of condemnation and being consigned to hell. We wish to save ourselves, to preserve our lives, and so we obey what we perceive to be the commands of God. That is the way of the Pharisee. One of the most consistent messages which Jesus teaches is ‘Do not be afraid’ (some 20 times He says this). The Pharisees in particular were consumed with this individual fear – they were afraid that if they didn’t keep to the Law then God would once more allow Jerusalem to be destroyed (as described in Lamentations) – and that is what Jesus is overcoming. The God of Jesus Christ desires mercy not sacrifice.

We can also seek God because we are in awe of Him. Consider the difference between being poised on the edge of a cliff and thinking at one and the same time ‘wow, what a view’ and ‘I might fall and die’ and ‘I am so small’; or, on the other hand, being pursued by a large wild animal and knowing you are about to be caught and killed and eaten. The former – whilst still genuinely fear – can also be exhilarating, and has the potential for relationship and love. The latter is simply hopeless terror, and underlies Pharisaism. It is precisely the absence of faith, hope and love – and that is what separates it from the Way.

Fear in the sense of ‘terror’ is not the way we are called to relate to God, particularly when that fear is considered on an individualistic basis. That message is not good news. It is like the secret police arriving in the homes of a totalitarian state and saying, ‘if you accept our authority then we will not torture you’. It is a theology which casts Lavrenty Beria in the role of St Paul.

Perfect love casts out fear. And we are called to love, to love one another as He loved us. Beloved, let us love one another… for God is love. And in Him there is no darkness at all.