Freedom in the fear of God

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Written by Refuge Center counseling intern, Pike Williams

• In this “Age of Grace” should we fear God?
• What does “fear” mean as it relates to God?
• Fearing God seems totally inconsistent with my ideas of God.
• Can fearing God help me overcome the anxiety and stress I feel?
• Honestly, sometimes, God feels very small and distant to me and fearing him is not something I think about at all. I bring him into my life when I need him.

My wife and I just returned from visiting our daughter in New York City and we arrived there just in time for Hurricane Sandy. We had planned the trip so we could be with her on her birthday at the end of October and, thanks to Sandy, our visit was longer than we planned because we were stuck there two extra days.
While there, I experienced a range of emotions before, during and after the storm and my feelings were eerily reminiscent of September 11, 2001 and more recently, of the floods in the Nashville area in 2010. In my reflections, I realized that two things seemed to occupy my mind in these situations… my personal fear of what might happen given my complete lack of control of the situation and, in particular, where was God in all of this? Did God realize what was happening and what the consequences would be? Did he care? Could he have prevented this tragedy from happening, and if so, and this was the most troubling to me, why did he allow it to happen if he realized the consequences and if it was within his power to stop it?
After some thought and a review of relevant biblical passages, I’ve come to some conclusions. First, I believe God definitely knew (he is omniscient) and that he could have stopped these and other tragedies (he is omnipotent), but for reasons that I cannot comprehend, he chooses to allow painful experiences at times. Secondly, these situations are jolting reminders of my complete dependency on God and that my having a healthy fear of God is certainly appropriate given my deep and continuing need for a savior. In these moments of catastrophe, I am sometimes reminded of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon in 1741 entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”…not the most comforting thought when the world seems to be blowing up around us, but nonetheless, it’s worth considering because it will surely happen again.

Regarding God’s power, it’s easy to forget how big God is, but a quick look heavenward is all we need to recalibrate. Astronomers tell us that our solar system, where the Earth resides, is somewhere in the range of 8 billion miles wide, and that our solar system is an incredibly small piece of the Milky Way galaxy which is estimated to be 100,000 light years wide. Light travels nearly 6000 billion miles in a year, so the dimensions of the galaxy defy our imagination… it would be something like 100,000 x 6000 billion miles wide. To clarify further, if the Milky Way galaxy was reduced to the size of North America, our solar system would be the size of a quarter with the Earth being a small speck on the quarter! Even more mind-boggling is that there is clear evidence that the Milky Way galaxy is only one of thousands, possibly millions of galaxies in space.
I am completely unable to comprehend these dimensions, but if there is a God who created all of this, it makes sense that he can certainly know and control what’s going on here on Earth. Instinctively, we seem to know this because in the face of tragedy, we all seem to run to God for answers and help. However, in our day to day living we become consumed with temporal things, trying to create our own security and permanency here on Earth, and in the process, we lose perspective of our complete dependence on God.

All of this can make us feel seriously insignificant and it certainly doesn’t assure us that God would spare us because we’re so important and necessary to his plans. To the contrary, it leaves us wondering just how necessary we are and leads us to a deep awareness that we are completely in the merciful hands of God. While God is able to save us, of course, is he willing?
However, the wonderful news is that God has declared our worth and came after us in the form of Jesus Christ and that while we may be insignificant in terms of size, each one of us is extremely important to God… we most assuredly are significantly insignificant!
Matthew 10:28-31 summarizes the situation well. As Jesus was sending his disciples out to spread the good news to the nation of Israel, he realized that some would reject the message and persecute them so he provided these instructions, which are good reminders to us all, “28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.


In his excellent book, When People Are Big and God is Small, Edward Welch contrasts our fear of God and of people. As well-deserved as the fear of God is given his power and might, fear alone is debilitating and it certainly needs to be balanced with the love and grace that God provides in order to have an accurate perspective of God and ourselves. Welch provides a continuum which shows that as our knowledge of God grows, balanced with understanding of God’s holy justice and his holy love, we are able to comprehend God correctly and to enjoy the experience of living in relationship with him, even in the midst of life’s storms and disasters. In fact, as we embrace a healthy fear of God, we become liberated from the self-created prisons we can find ourselves in as we allow others to have unhealthy power and control over us.

“The person who fears God will fear nothing else.” (Welch, 1997)

Welch, E. T. (1997), When people are big and God is small. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.

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