What does the fear of God really mean?
There are various aspects to fearing God. In part it means that we are to literally fear Him. You should be in awe of Him, because of His colossal power and the dreadful consequences of being on the wrong side of Him. In fact, you would be a fool not to fear Him. Yet there is more to it than just fear. There is also awe, respect and reverence. We need to feel all of those things, and intensely. Indeed, when we consider God it should cause us to tremble:
Tremble, O earth, before the Lord,
Before the God of Jacob, Psalm 114:7 (NASB)
My flesh trembles for fear of You,
And I am afraid of Your judgments. Psalm 119:120 (NASB)
Many years ago, the Queen came to visit the town where I lived. I was standing by a path next to the Queen as she walked along slowly. There was a certain moment when the Queen stopped right next to me and stood for a little while only perhaps 3 feet from me. I could have reached out and touched her. Yet, I was in awe that I was standing right next to the Queen. It seemed unthinkable to do anything to draw attention to myself, or to speak, or move. I felt rooted to the spot.
I was in the presence of someone great, at least in comparison to me. That placed boundaries on what I could say or do. That experience has often come back to me when I have thought about the reverence and fear that we need to feel towards the Lord God Almighty. However much respect we might properly show towards the Queen, the fact is that she is still only a human being like the rest of us. She is a sinner who is mortal and fallible, with limited knowledge and strength. But God is infinitely greater.
The fear of the Lord also involves being overwhelmed by how extraordinarily brilliant God is. He is the only person who is all-knowing, all-powerful and who is present everywhere. He is perfect, holy, righteous, wise, magnificent, creative, imaginative, artistic and musical. He possesses every virtue to an infinite degree. Given that He is all those things and has all those immense qualities, how much more should we be in awe of Him? He is indescribably impressive.
If you were to imagine a person who combined all the qualities of the Queen, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and a host of other brilliant scholars, artists, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, politicians and monarchs, then that might give you a fragment of a picture of how awesome God is. Yet He is infinitely more than such an imaginary composite person could be.
Remember that God created the entire universe. Even within our own galaxy, the Milky Way, there are billions of stars. Yet there are billions of other such galaxies in the universe. He created all of them in a single day, simply by speaking them into existence. He did it through the power of His own words and His creative imagination. Reflect on that for a moment. That is how powerful He is.
At the same time, He created all of what we know as the arts and every other form of beauty. Every person who creates any piece of music, art or poetry is just reflecting a little glimpse of what God naturally is. He is an artist, as you will immediately see by just looking at the beauty of the world that He created. You only have to see a sunset to know that it was intentionally created by a brilliant artist. It cannot have come about by chance. It’s obvious, likewise, that each of the creatures that He has made, and especially the human race, have a beauty and complexity that make clear that they were designed by someone of the utmost brilliance. None of it is accidental and none of it ‘evolved’ by itself.
For all these reasons, we must respect, honour and fear God. We must do so because of who and what He is and because of what He can do with us and to us. That may not be a fashionable way to talk about God, but as we have seen in the verses quoted earlier, He repeatedly describes Himself in the Bible as someone who is to be feared. He does not merely suggest that. He commands it. It is up to us to choose whether to listen to Him or obey Him. But we must recognise the terrible consequences of failing to do so.
30For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (NIV)
Therefore, let me come back to my earlier point. Do not be so misguided as to imagine that you are not a sinner or that you are not such a bad sinner as to be in any danger of God’s wrath and separation from him in the Lake of Fire. I have no desire to offend or insult you, or anybody, or to be impolite about any of this. But we may as well face facts. No matter who you are, you are a sinner. Therefore you are in the same position as me and everybody else. The only question is what are you going to do about it?