We read in different parts of the Bible that we are to fear God, but what does that mean? Many people live in a state of constant fear that God will reject them or cause them harm if they act or think in certain ways. This is not what the Bible means by fearing God. But fearing God doesn’t mean nothing. In our culture, God has become so common that he is no longer sacred. People act without any regard for what God thinks. What then is a proper understanding? It is true that God did become one of us, taking on human flesh. But if all we see is the intimate God, he becomes too “nice” and too “tamed” to be worthy of worship.
John the Baptist was born around unusual and miraculous circumstances. His mother conceived him long after her child-bearing years. His father was told by an angel about his birth, but Zechariah did not believe the angel and was given a sign, that he would be mute until his son’s birth. As was the Jewish custom, the birth of a child was a celebration. For the first eight days of the child’s birth, the entire community gathered to rejoice over the new life. In this case, there was an even greater celebration.
On the eighth day, the boy was circumcised and named. Elizabeth stated that he would be named John, as the angel Gabriel stated. The community around them did not understand because the custom called for a family name. Zechariah confirmed John as his name and immediately he could speak. The community responded with awe because of the great things that surrounded John’s birth.
The Greek word used for “awe” is phobos, one that is often translated “fear.” The response of this community is quite normal, because fear or awe is a common reaction to the presence of God. What then does this mean?
One common experience it does not mean is “terror” of God. Many people live in a state of constant fear that God will reject them or cause them harm if they act or think in a contrarian way. God is seen as a dysfunctional boss, leering over the edge of heaven waiting for people to mess up so he can set things right. This is not what this means.
Another false understanding in our culture is that fear means nothing. God has become so common that he is desecrated. He becomes one of us, “just a slob sitting on a bus” like the song from the 1990s states. As a result, people act without any regard for what God thinks. Each individual becomes a self-determined being, at least in their minds.
What then is a proper understanding? It is true that God did become one of us. He had mercy on our state and humbled Himself, taking on human flesh. Because of this, the door has been opened for us to enter into a new state of intimacy with Him. He is our friend, our lover, our comforter. Yet because the “fear” language is so prevalent in the Bible, there must be more to this view of God. If all we see is the intimate God, he becomes too “nice” too “tamed” to really be a God worthy of worship.
Let’s consider two things:
First, the vastness of the universe. Ps 19:1 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands …” There are 125 billion known galaxies in the universe, each with about 100 billion stars. That’s 12,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Some of these stars have a mass 100-150 times that of the Sun and are about 100 million times brighter.
Secondly, the brain. Any segment of the brain the size of a quarter is more complex than the world wide web. If you were to line up all the dendrites in your brain in a row, the line would circle the globe five times. If you open your eyes, every square inch of creation proclaims mystery, pointing to a Creator that extends beyond imagination. He is unfathomable, incomprehensible, inscrutable, unbelievable, inconceivable, unimaginable, indescribable, unthinkable and inexplicable.
More wonderful than the vast universe or the complex brain is that this Creator loves you. This almighty God became man and died for you. This is the most mind boggling fact of all. C.S. Lewis used the word “untamed” to communicate the quality of God that is both frightening and tender, scary yet intimate, strange but comfortable. In Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund says, “the mention of Aslan (the figure representing God) gave him a mysterious and horrible feeling just as it gave the others a mysterious and lovely feeling.” He is an untamed Lion. You can’t control him. He does as he pleases. You can only adore him. Reverence him. Those not aligned with him should be scared. God isn’t terrifying. He’s altogether lovely. But it’s a scary thing to declare war on him. (Heb 10:31). But those aligned with him will see the beauty, intimacy, tenderness along with the otherness, awesomeness and holiness. These combined drive people to their knees in awe and fear of this incredible God.
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