What Does It Mean To Fear the Lord? Michael Reeves. 2021. [January] Crossway. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: Boo! It’s one of the first words we enjoy. As children, we loved to leap out on our friends and shout it. But at the same time, we were scared of the dark and the monsters under the bed. We were both fascinated and repelled by our fears. And not much changes when we grow up: adults love scary movies and thrills that bring us face-to-face with our worst fears. But we also agonize over all the dreadful things that could happen to us: how we could lose our lives, health, or loved ones; how we might fail or be rejected. Fear is probably the strongest human emotion. But it baffles us. When we come to the Bible, the picture seems equally confusing: is fear a good thing or bad? Many times Scripture clearly views fear as a bad thing from which Christ has come to rescue us. Indeed, the most frequent command in Scripture is “Do not be afraid!” Yet, again and again in Scripture we are called to fear. Even more strangely, we are called to fear God. The verse that quickly comes to mind is Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
What Does It Mean To Fear the Lord? is SHORT but WEIGHTY. It is a theological gem examining many of the texts of Scripture concerning fear. There is a spiritually healthy--perhaps spiritually NECESSARY--fear of the LORD. There is an unhealthy--not spiritually beneficial or helpful--FEAR. There's a difference between FEARING GOD and fearing all the bajillion things of this world that can make us fearful, anxious, worried, panicky.
We live in an anxious society that has turned to medication and perhaps therapy (best case scenario) or to drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. (worst case scenario) to "fix" this ANGST. Reeves argues that what we need--what we absolutely and fundamentally need--is FEAR OF THE LORD. This is a misunderstood and under-appreciated theological doctrine. Christians need to be taught, need to understand, exactly what it means to fear the LORD.
He writes, "With our society having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming more neurotic and anxious. In ousting God from our culture, other concerns—from personal health to the health of the planet—have assumed a divine ultimacy in our minds. Good things have become cruel and pitiless idols. The fact is that not all fear is the same, or unhealthy, or unpleasant. We must distinguish between different sorts of fear, between wrong fear and right fear. That is what we will do now. Then we can rejoice in the fact that the fear of God is not like fears that torment us."
One of my favorite quotes, "By opening our eyes to know God aright, the Spirit turns our hearts to fear him with a loving, filial fear. That is the fear that is appropriate for Christians, who are brought by the Son to be beloved, adopted children before their heavenly Father...It all means that we must keep a careful eye on how we think of God. For the very shape of the gospel we proclaim will tell of how we think of God. Think of the gospel presentation that only describes God as Creator and ruler: sin is no deeper a matter than breaking his rules; redemption is about being brought back under his rulership. Such a gospel could never impart a filial fear and wonder, for there is no mention of God’s fatherhood or our adoption in his Son. Such a gospel can only leave people with a fear of the Creator. Only when we are resolutely Christ-centered can we tell a richer, truer gospel. Only then does the story make sense that our sin is a deeper matter than external disobedience, that it is a relational matter of our hearts loving what is wrong. Only then will we speak of God the Father sending forth his Son that he might bring us as children into his family."
- But reorienting our fears and affections is a daily battle we must join. Left to our sinful fears of God, we will shrink from God in guilt and not enjoy his goodness. Left to our fear of man, we will wilt before every criticism, unable to enjoy real fellowship. And just as a right and happy fear of God is fostered by the truth, sinful fears grow in a bed of Satan’s lies. We must counter with the truth that drives out anxiety. Into the battlefield of our troubled hearts we send the promises of God. Safe in Christ, we testify to ourselves afresh that the Almighty is our compassionate Redeemer and loving Father, and that he is able, willing, and near to us as we call on him.
- Where hell is the dreadful sewer of all sinful fears, heaven is the paradise of unconfined, maximal, delighted filial fear.
- In fact, all fears are a foretaste. The sinful fears and dreads of unbelievers are the firstfruits of hell; the filial fears of Christians are the firstfruits of heaven. Now our fears are partial; then they will be unconfined. For now, Christians see in part, and so we love and rejoice only in part. We hang our heads knowing that moments of filial, trembling wonder are all too faint and all too few. But when we see him as he is, that ecstasy will be unimpaired and absolute.
- It is the affection that expels spiritual lethargy. To grow in this sweet and quaking wonder at God is to taste heaven now.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible