1. The expression “fear of God” can disfigure our view of God. It shows that God is a God of revenge and power play. So we have to be careful as not to “disturb” that anger. But we also struggle with this because we are told that God is love; full of compassion and mercy.
2. Let us look closely at the expression, “fear of God”. Hopefully we can have a different view from that of a revengeful God.
3. Ancient Hebrew people did not have modern science yet. So their view of natural events—like strong winds—were understood as divine manifestations. The book of Exodus, for example, shows this belief. The thick pillar of cloud was seen as a divine manifestation. The authors of the book looked at natural forces and associated them with the Lord God. The big forces of nature were understood as expressing the power of God.
4. In this power manifested also the love of God. The power in nature was in the service of love; the love of God for his people. So we can understand why the expression “fear of God” was used. The Hebrew people saw in natural forces a power that was beyond the human. It was normal for those people to have “fear” for a God whose power went beyond human powers.
5. Imagine the sense of fragility of the human in front of the forces of nature. The ancient Hebrews sense their “littleness” as they turned to God in wonder.
6. It was an attitude. It was also a normal feeling.
7. But behind that attitude was a deep sense of God. The ancient Hebrews recognized the greatness of the Lord God and the salvation given by God. A big part of the Hebrew mentality was the sense of covenant with God. That covenant required fidelity in the social-moral life of the people. So an aspect of the “fear of God” was the awareness of the holiness of God. God was honored. In front of that holiness of God, the human sensed, again, a “being little”. The ancient Hebrews were constantly reminded of their infidelity to the covenant. Remember that the prophets were so vigilant against this infidelity.
8. So “fear of God” was linked with the fear of infidelity to the covenant. The notion of sin was that of setting aside God, alienating oneself from God. The salvation that was given by God will be set aside too. So the Hebrew people saw in this “fear of God” the fear of losing communion and fraternity with God. The feeling—and attitude—of fear was accompanied by the desire and love for God. If God chose the people of Israel because God loved that people, then the people of Israel saw themselves as a people who also had to return to God with love with all their strength. All human dimensions had to turn to God. It was norm al to have fear of God; but even in that fear was contained a sense of desiring for God. It was not a fear based on the revenge of God. The New Testament will clarify this more.
9. Fear was always associated with confidence. Notice that each time God would show up to someone in the Bible, God would insist, “be not afraid”. The moment of so strong intimacy and proximity with God induced the sense of fear and God had to complement that with confidence. Do not be overwhelmed by fear…have confidence. God tried to remove human fear to assure that his presence was not a presence of anger and revenge but a presence of love.
10.Let us take a beautiful example; Mary. In the Annunciation she really must have had an experience of fear. But she was assured, was she not? We read: “ “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Lk1/30).
11.The New Testament “refines” the meaning of this fear of God. We see the disciples of Jesus themselves experiencing fear. But Jesus constantly told them not to fear. Look at the story of Jesus walking on water. Look at the Transfiguration story. In such stories the idea of fear of God means the fascination and wonder in front of a presence that was so “transcendent”…so “beyond”. Fear is a normal feeling. But look at how Jesus constantly “refines” that fear. Do not get stuck in the usual fear of something that will harm. Let the fear channel itself to confidence.
12.The disciples of Christ—if we look at the early Christian history—are peole who “fear” God; but it is a fear that turns to confidence in Jesus who guides the path of daily living in conformity with the vocation of a child of God. No, it is not about the fear of facing a revengeful God who is always watching and waiting for us to make mistakes. That fear is “infantile”. Christianity is not a religion with a God who “infantilizes” us. Christian “fear of God” is a fear with confidence. It is fear of adoration of God who, in his loving power, sent us Jesus Christ.
13.We might think that with God if we become close we might lose this “fear” and everything will become loose and “easy going”. Remember that Jesus himself allowed his disciples to be close to him. “I have called you friends,* because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15/15). Just think about this. Jesus, “from above” (as our Christology already discussed before) should really be worthy of our fear and respect. But he said we are his friends. We can be friends and continue to keep the honor with Jesus. The “fear” we have of Jesus does not stop us from being friends with him. If our fear stops this friendship, then we need to check. Jesus revealed to us his friendship. So from where is our fear coming from? Is it linked with the revelation of Jesus? We can be friends with Jesus—and it is a friendship that is matured and healthy.
Some helpful references:
a) See Exodus 3/6 and 20/18-19. See Isaiah 6/5. See Luke 1/30 and 2/9 and 5/9-11.
b) About confidence, see Genesis 15/1. See Isaiah 41/10 and 41/13-14. See Mark 6/50;Matthew 6/25-34 and 10/26-31.
c) Fear and love of God: see Deuteronomy 6/2.5.13. See Luke 1/50.
d) Fear and the Spirit: see Isiah 11/2.e) Fear and wisdom: see Proverbs 1/7f) Fear and piety: see Ecclesiates 1/11-20.