What Does It Feel Like to Fear a God Who Is For You?
Jun 24, 2015 | Justin Taylor; BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
The Bible tells us again and again that “the fear of the LORD” is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10) and knowledge (Prov. 1:7).
The Bible also commands us to “hope in God” (e.g., Ps. 42:5; 42:11; 43:5).
And a passage like Psalm 147:10-11 brings both fearing God and hoping in God together:
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
John Piper, writing in The Pleasures of God, asks about the relationship between hope and fear:
Does it strike you as strange that we should be encouraged to fear and hope at the same time and in the same person? . . . Do you hope in the one you fear and fear the one you hope in? It’s usually the other way around: if we fear a person, we hope that someone else will come and help us. But here we are supposed to fear the one we hope in and hope in the one we fear. What does this mean?
Piper offers his own answer:
I think it means that we should let the experience of hope penetrate and transform the experience of fear. In other words, the kind of fear that we should have toward God is whatever is left of fear when we have a sure hope in the midst of it.
He then provides this helpful picture to explain what he means:
Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and mountains of snow, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises in your heart that it might blow you over the cliff. But in the midst of the stormyou discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure. But, even though secure, the awesome might of the storm rages on, and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.
At first there was the fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called fear vanished from your heart. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.
And so it is with God. In the same Psalm we read, “He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold?” (vv. 16-17). The cold of God is a fearful thing—who can stand against it! And verses 4-5 point to the same power of God in nature: “He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names. Great is our LORD, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”
In other words, God’s greatness is greater than the universe of stars, and his power is behind the unendurable cold of arctic storms. Yet he cups his hand around us and says, “Take refuge in my love and let the terrors of my power become the awesome fireworks of your happy night-sky.” The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it. And in that place of refuge we say, “This is amazing, this is terrible, this is incredible power; Oh, the thrill of being here in the center of the awful power of God, yet protected by God himself! Oh, what a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God without hope, without a Savior! Better to have a millstone tied around my neck and be thrown into the depths of the sea than to offend against this God! What a wonderful privilege to know the favor of this God in the midst of his power!”
And so we get an idea of how we feel both hope and fear at the same time. Hope turns fear into a trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it earnest and profound. The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense. The fireside fellowship is all the sweeter when the storm is howling outside the cottage.
Discussion of the fear of the Lord is a subject sorely lacking in evangelical circles. For a good introduction to this biblical theme, see Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God.