A couple weeks ago, my niece, Megan, ran up to my open car window and blurted out a question.
“Can you explain what it means to fear God? It’s part of my assignment for Bible class.”
I thought for a second.
“Well, it’s not the kind of fear that should make us scared of God. It’s more like respect. This is the King of the universe we’re talking about. He’s all-powerful and it’s important for us to honor who He is.”
“Do you know any good Bible verses that will help explain it better?”
“The first one that comes to mind is Revelation 14:6. The first angel tells us to ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come.’ We need to have reverence for who God is and be in awe of what He’s capable of. Plus, He’s in charge of the judgment, which determines our eternal fates.”
“I guess I’ll have to keep thinking about it. Let me know if you think of anything else that will help.”
As I drove home, I started to think about how difficult the concept of biblical fear is for us humans. Fear is something we tend to associate with evil, not good. We’re conditioned to fear: to be afraid, scared, or terrified. It’s driven from the cause and effect nature of the world we live in. When we do something bad we fear the consequences.
The next day I was reading Christ’s Object Lessons about the two worshippers (Luke 18), when I came across a passage that immediately grabbed my attention.
“God does not bid you fear that He will fail to fulfill His promises, that His patience will weary, or His compassion be found wanting. . . . Fear to trust your own strength, fear to withdraw your hand from the hand of Christ and attempt to walk life’s pathway without His abiding presence” (p. 161).
Have we ever been afraid that God would abandon us? Perhaps because of a sin we can’t seem to get rid of. How could we possibly ever be forgiven for blatantly doing the very evil that put Jesus on the cross?
If you’ve ever experienced that type of fear, read Ellen White’s statement again and think about it in the context of 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Fear and love are at war with one another. We cannot, on one hand, proclaim the all-encompassing love of God, and on the other hand—whether consciously or subconsciously—drown ourselves with worry that we are beyond the reach of His compassion and doomed to eternal punishment.
What we should fear is ourselves removed from that love; not because God will move away from us, but because we have the free will to wander away from Him.
The greatest of eternal tragedies will be those standing outside the New Jerusalem who rationally understood God’s love, but in misguided fear failed to personally take hold of it.
On the other hand, the inside of the glorious City will be filled with only one class of humans: Sinners who feared their fallen nature and allowed Christ’s perfect love and righteousness to cover their shame.
No fear. I can’t wait.
Jimmy Phillips is executive director of marketing at San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield, California, United States.