When I was young I dreamed that my entire family disappeared. They were no where to be found. It was a sinking feeling, and I was very happy to wake up from that nightmare to find my mother nagging me to get up, my dad going to work, and my sister and brothers being their annoying selves. I must have been afraid of losing my family and being left alone in this big, scary, world.
My fears are different now, but occasionally they still show up in my dreams. One fear I’ve never dreamed about is the fear of the Lord.
Maybe it is a different type of fear.
What does it mean to fear God? Do we fear punishment if we disobey him? Does fear mean awe and reverence before a holy God? Perhaps it is an acknowledgment that God is more powerful than anyone or anything else.
The “fear of the Lord” is a common phrase in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. It is pure, the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, and a fountain of life. Those who fear the Lord are always commended.
The Bible also tells us frequently not to be afraid of our enemies or earthly troubles. If we fear the Lord, and we understand that he is more powerful than any other force, then we won’t disobey God out of anxiety. Unfortunately, that is difficult to do.
The fear of the Lord is a foundation of our theology. If we don’t understand the whole character of God we might not show appropriate reverence for him or, conversely, we might live in unhealthy fear of him. When in the presence of a Holy God, people in the Bible fainted, trembled, and dropped to their knees in unworthiness. How did God respond to that? “Do not be afraid.”
I know that God is all powerful, all knowing, and ever present, and therefore I can hide nothing from him. But, I do not fear punishment from God. I am not afraid to confess, to ask him for help, guidance, provision, or to come to him in my weakness, precisely because of my understanding of his omniscience and supremacy. He knows me better than I know myself, and he still loves and cares for me. I may endure the natural results of my bad choices, but that is very different from God inflicting punishment on me.
When we understand God’s love for us, that he sent his Son to die for us, and that he has sent his Holy Spirit to indwell us, how can we be afraid of him?
A mama bear strikes me as a good representation of the fear of the Lord. A mama bear is fearful to anyone but her cubs. To them, she is mama. To believers, God is our Father.
God is fearsome, no doubt, but he is also loving, merciful, and gracious. In Christ, we have the assurance that there is no condemnation, that we are his children, and that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. On that foundation we understand God’s place and our place, and we begin to grow in wisdom.
I don’t have fearful nightmares of a God who punishes me when I sin. Instead, the Bible teaches me of a loving Father who has guaranteed that I am his. Waking up alone in this scary world is no longer a fear of mine, for I know my Father and He knows me.