In my last post I discussed many Scriptures that tell us about the reality, the need, and the purpose of a proper fear of the the Lord. It’s probably best to skim back over that again before reading on.
There is a stigma and negativity attached to the word “fear” that is normal in most senses. But many people, especially in western cultures, have forgotten about “good fear”. Similar to the good fear that encourages your feet to not fall of the edge of the steep slope, that warns your “gut” about impending danger, or that tells you that playing with a rattle that’s still attached to the rattlesnake is deadly behaviour, their is a good fear that keeps us close to our good Father.
With those things in mind, I want to share a story that not only helped me to teach “good fear” to others who were asking during a study of the Psalms many years ago, but also helps me to remember and apply it myself even now.
It was several years ago while teaching at the first church plant I was involved with in the San Diego area. I found myself trying to explain the concept of fearing God and the usual struggle that Christians have with the idea of fearing God: that they have also learned from Scripture that God is their father who loves them, so why on earth would they fear him?!
That’s a great question, and one that’s valid. Why would God give us His word and through it teach that we are His beloved children, and then tell us that we are supposed to fear Him?
Normally when something just doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, the problem is either one of communication or culture, both of which are part of our worldview. This is the lens through which we understand the things that we interact with in life; be they speech, written words, people, body language, images, sounds, etc. In this case — at least for myself and most people I’ve known in the U.S. — the idea of “fear” is totally contradictory to our idea of love. So when we hear the phrase “fear God”, we normally envision a powerfully awesome and angry God who is about to smite a whimpering weakling of a human. But why? Why is that image, or one similar, the way in which we automatically conceptualize fearing somebody? The answer to that could take weeks of posts on a blog, so I’ll leave it for now. But suffice it to say that this paradigm of ours, one that automatically evokes images of trembling, despair, and woe when the idea of fearing another is mentioned, is not what the Bible is advocating or instructing when it tells the believer to fear God. In fact, I hope that with this personal story I can help us see that we actually do understand the other aspects of fear, we just don’t think of them often because of our worldview: one that teaches us from an early age to disregard and suppress this good fear because it may be mistaken for weakness.
So several years ago, as I was sitting on a wooden swivel stool before a small group of believers gathered together for a mid-week Bible study, the Holy Spirit suddenly brought a story to mind. A story that aptly portrays the kind of godly fear that keeps our hearts in check, provides the basis from which wisdom and knowledge can blossom, and yet does no violence to our fragile concept of the love that God has for us and towards us. As I opened my mouth, the Spirit brought this story to remembrance:
When I was just a young boy we would often drive from the San Diego area up to Los Angeles to visit my grandparents. I would often spend several weeks or more each summer with them, and because of this I had made a few friends on the street where they lived. One summer my father came up to spend a few days visiting before taking me back home with him. I was a few doors down the street on my bicycle, playing with a couple of the kids from the neighborhood. We were in the driveway of the home of one of the kids I knew when these two scary looking teenagers approached on their bicycles. They had long hair and black t-shirts with Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath logos, and they stank of cigarette smoke. They were probably only 16 or 17 years old, but I was only about 10 at the time so I felt fearful at their sudden appearance.
As they rolled up on their cool bicycles they began talking to one of my friends. I just assumed that she knew them but wasn’t sure. One of them pulled up right next to me and was looking at my bike. It was a cheap bike — one of the store brands — but my aunt had it painted for my birthday so it would look more like the expensive Diamond Back bicycles of the day. I then saved up some lawn mowing money and bought a Diamond Back brand bar cushion and cover — you know the kind made of foam that wrapped around the top bar and then had a cover that wrapped around that secured with velcro. It was the best I could do to make my poor man’s Diamond Back look legit.
After a few uneasy minutes of visiting us, it looked like these two potential trouble-makers were going to leave. But just as they were leaving, the one who was right next to me reached over and ripped off the Diamond Back cover from my top bar and then sped off with it. I was in shock! I was angry and hurt and confused. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.
The thing is… it only took me about two seconds to figure out what to do about it. That’s right. GO GET DAD!
I rode my bike fast and hard down the street and ran inside to get my dad. He was napping in the guest bedroom but was already waking up by the time I got into the room because of all the commotion and crying on my way into the house. He asked what was wrong and I told him what had happened. He then got a look on his face that etched itself into my memory like the bright spots that burn into your retina after looking at the sun. It was a look that I, myself, would come to understand and develop my own version of as I got older, got married, and had my own children. It was the look of a father who was ready to defend and meet out justice on behalf of his son. A father who’s primary goal in life had just shifted from all of the typical cares and responsibilities of fatherhood to one single all-consuming goal: find the people who did this to my son and right the wrong!
We hopped into the old, green LTD and pulled out of the driveway. One of my friends had carefully ridden down to the end of the street to see which way the thieves had gone and relayed that information to my father. We headed off after them. Watch out Hawthorne!
At the end of the street we turned left, and then continued for a couple of blocks. My dad decided to turn right and search down the street at the third block. After one block I saw up ahead on the right-hand side a few teenagers rough-housing in the front yard. As we got a little bit closer I told my dad, “That’s them!” I was sick to my stomach with nervousness.
My dad drove past them to the next intersection and then turned around. He went back and parked on the opposite side of the street from their house. I can still see his face and hear his voice decades later. “Stay in the car, son. I’ll take care of this.” That look on his face… that tone in his voice… they caused a distinct reaction throughout my whole being that can only be described as fear. And yet… I wasn’t afraid of him. I was just fearfully cognisant of who he was and the power that I saw in his demeanor and attitude.
My father crossed the street and walked directly up onto the grass where the three teenagers were wrestling around and listening to music on a boom box. I couldn’t hear the first few words spoken, but I could see my father’s face and the shocked and confused faces of the boys on the lawn. Then my dad looked down and saw my Diamond Back bar cover on one of the bikes on the lawn. He asked them, “Did you steal this from my son?” The fear billowed up inside of me at what would happen next. I thought I was going to explode. One of the boys got an attitude and answered back, “No, that’s mine!” WRONG ANSWER!
With that lie, my father stripped the stolen item from the bicycle with one hand, picked up the bicycle with the other hand, and then proceeded to HURL the bicycle from the middle of the front lawn all the way across the lawn, the sidewalk, and the street, so that it landed clear across on the sidewalk just in front of our parked car where I sat in complete awe and fear of my father’s strength and authority. That bicycle must have traveled a distance of forty plus feet in the air before landing in a mangled mess. (Did I mention that my father was a fireman and a carpenter with arms and a chest like Popeye’s?)
As my father began his walk back to the car, my recovered possession in hand, I distinctly remember the fear, the awe, the reverence and wonderment at what had just happened. I didn’t fear my dad as I would if I had just been caught skipping school and lying about it. I didn’t fear him the way an abused child fears a drunk father when the knob of the front door begins wiggling as dad gets home from the bar. I didn’t fear him in any way that made me want to run or hide or separate myself from him. Rather, I feared him in a way that made me want to slide over to the middle seat so that I could be closer to him. I feared him in a way that made me want to shout, “That’s my dad!” I feared him in a way that caused a deep respect and honor for him; the kind of respect that drives a son to please his father and never be the cause of his just discipline.
That, I believe, is the fear of the Lord described in Scripture. Our heavenly Father is awesome! He is mighty and powerful and just. His authority is final and his action without repentance. AND HE’S MY DAD!
I fear Him in such a way that I want to get closer to Him and enjoy the benefits of sonship. I fear Him in such a way that makes me tremble for those who would defy Him, blaspheme Him, and challenge His authority. I fear Him in such a way that I have the utmost honor and respect for Him and would never want to run from His presence and behave as those who are not His children, and receive His swift discipline in order to save my soul from my self.
Fear God, brothers and sisters. He is awesome. He is just. He is mighty. He is holy. He is great.
He’s my Dad… and I fear Him.