There is a lot of talk in Christianity about fear. In fact one of the most repeated commands in the Bible is ‘do not fear’ or ‘do not be afraid’. Paul writes to Timothy, explaining to him that ‘God did not give you a spirit of fear!’, therefore do not be afraid!
How then do we make sense of the verses which seem to promote the opposite. Famously, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’, or ‘I will put the fear of Me [God] in their hearts’.
John Piper, in his new book Providence, has helped “provide” some sort of answer to paradox that I have found helpful.
Talking about these commands to fear God, Piper explains that many Christians seem to stumble ‘thinking that God may be (in heaven) rejoicing over us…(whilst) we cower before Him’ (Piper- Providence, pg 160).
However, the beneficiaries of the New Covenant will not be cowering! How come? Because the fear of the Lord is NOT the opposite of joy in the Lord. Rather, it is the depth and the seriousness of it.
To say it again, the fear of the Lord is the depth and seriousness of our joy in the Lord!
How does Piper make this connection?
Isaiah 11:3 – ‘And he will delight in the fear of the Lord’.
Nehemiah 1:11 – ‘Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who delight in fearing Your name’.
Therefore what Christians fear ‘is the failure to to see God in Christ as supremely enthralling’ (Piper, Providence, pg 161). We fear unbelief in Christ who is our righteousness, we fear the awesomeness of a holy God who lets us stand in His presence, rather than be destroyed, by His generous, beautiful, perfect Son. In whom is the fullness of Joy for us who believe.
Perhaps it is for this reason that Paul writes in Romans: ‘…they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but (rather) tremble’ (Romans 11:20).
So, how do we make sense of fearing God? It is because we recognise, that to fear God is to appreciate the vast extent of joy that is found in the Lord. We can sing, along with the Psalmist, that in God’s mighty, overwhelming presence, ‘is fulness of joy, at His right hand pleasures forevermore’ (16:11)