If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. ~ Psalm 130:3-4
A person once asked: “Can you help me understand what the Bible means when it says we are to “fear” God? Some have said it is just to have an awe of him. I find this understanding inconsistent with Scripture as little as I know. Fear is fear, and isn’t it caused by sin and our sinful desires to turn from God, not some sense of awe of him? Is it a fair comparison to say we fear the wrath of our parents when we have done wrong but this fear is alleviated with the knowledge that they love us and forgive us of our wrongs?”
They asked an excellent question, and we can appreciate their desire to analyze a word that the Bible uses quite often.
The phrase “to fear” has two basic meanings: to “stand in awe of” or “be afraid of”. So, each time that the “fear of the Lord” is mentioned in a Bible passage, the reader needs to take note of the relationship the person or people have with God. Only when that is done will they have a better understanding of how the phrase is being used in that particular passage. It might (and often does) involve being afraid or in terror of, but it might also be emphasizing happily revering or respecting God with awe.
Maybe a word picture or illustration will be helpful:
Do I fear a quickly moving train? To answer that question correctly, I must first analyze my relationship to the train.
If I am trapped on the railroad tracks in front of the train, I “fear it” because its awesome power will crush me!
But if I am comfortably seated in a passenger car being pulled by the powerful engine and it is taking me to a destination I long for, I still “fear” the train, but this time I’m respecting and being in awe of its brute force. I can delight in its awesome strength for my benefit!
God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, does not change and is always worthy of “fear.”
For those who feel contempt for their Creator’s loving salvation through Jesus Christ his son–if they only knew what their eternal future holds for them–they would be terrified!
For those brought to trust the gracious promise of salvation in Christ through the Holy Spirit–the “fear of the Lord” holds no terror–they are filled with awe (as expressed in today’s verse) at such a loving, powerful, forgiving God!
Dear Heavenly Father, from everlasting to everlasting your love is with those who fear you. We are in awe of your power and righteousness, and we are comforted by our salvation through Jesus Christ. Amen