Several years ago, I spent a summer working as an intern for a children’s ministry, helping with a summer Vacation Bible School program. During a daily session, one of the leaders was giving a message about fear, and asked kids to shout out some things that frightened them. Amidst the greatest hits being shared by the kids, like “spiders!” and “the dark!”, my co-worker and I thought it might be funny to quietly shout some of our own adult fears and added things like, “failure!” and “long-term commitment!” Despite the humor we found in the moment, these were legitimate fears we were sharing, and things that might keep us from God’s ultimate flourishing in our lives.
The most oft-repeated command in the bible is some variation of “do not be afraid.” And I believe that one of the reasons we are commanded so often not to fear is that fear can be a form of idol worship. Fear can be completely paralyzing. It is not rational, but a primal, reactionary emotion that can drive many of the decisions that we make. This gives fear a place of power and prominence in our lives that should only be reserved for God Himself. When we give in to fear, we show that we trust our instincts as to the outcome of a situation and how it can possibly harm us more than we trust God. We allow what we fear to reign in our hearts and our lives.
It is interesting then, that the scriptures also talk so much about the fear of the Lord. Both Proverbs 9:10 and Psalm 111:10 tell us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Why would we be commanded to both “not fear,” and to “fear the Lord?” I believe an answer can be found by tying this to the commandment that we worship no other Gods or idols besides the Lord Himself. Many translations of the “fear of the Lord” tie the word fear to a reverential respect and awe. The kind of fear that reminds us of God’s incredible power, the power that shaped the universe and breathed life into existence. When we recognize the mighty works of this God through scripture reading, worship or marvelling at creation and the scope of all that God has done, it should remind us of our place in everything and bring us to our knees. This is the God who reaches out to us, who entered our world because He loved us, and who invites us to share in His plans to build His kingdom. When we gain this perspective, what else is even close to worthy of our respect, our awe, and yes, our fear?
1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love casts out fear.” If we are truly to worship God above all else, even the fears that often drive our actions, we must do so out of love and trust. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then the wisdom we earn from our relationship with God tells us that He is good, and thus we continue to trust in Him. Does knowing God lessen the awe and wonder of who He is? Not in the slightest. In fact, the deeper I get into a life spent walking with Jesus, the more I find myself in awe of just how much He must love this broken world to keep drawing us back to Him, and I maintain a healthy fear of the fact that God cannot be contained. Not by our rules, our knowledge, or any other force on this planet. In C.S. Lewis’ allegorical Chronicles of Narnia series, when the children first hear of Aslan the good lion, the book’s representation of Jesus in the story, they ask the residents of Narnia if he’s safe. The response: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” God’s goodness should always be the ultimate factor in our trust in Him. If a God that’s so powerful He is worth fearing above all else is ultimately good, then I should follow His lead into whatever may come, regardless of where it takes me.
The psalmist says, “The Lord is my light, and my salvation- whom shall I fear?” Only the Lord, and I shall not have any other idols before Him. Our safety is not guaranteed, but God’s goodness will always go with those whose trust is in Him.