What Does It Mean To Fear God?

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. (Ps 147:10-11)

I have a friend whose describes his grandfather as a cantankerous old man who would sit in his chair all day and thwack him and his cousins with his cane anytime they walked in front of him.  Is this what God is like?

God commands us to fear him and says that he takes pleasure in us when we fear him.  Why?  Does he enjoy us being afraid of him?  I know I don’t want my children to be afraid of me.  I want them to love me and enjoy being with me, not to be afraid of me.  So, in what sense are we to fear God?  The “fear” that brings God pleasure is not our being afraid of him, but our having a high and exalted, reverential view of him.

To “fear him” means to stand in awe of him: “Let all the earth FEAR the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world STAND IN AWE OF HIM!” (Ps 33.8).  To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of his majesty, power, wisdom, justice and mercy, especially in Christ – in his life, death and resurrection – that is, to have an exalted view of God.

We humans tend to be in awe of worldly power, talent, intelligence and beauty.  But these things don’t impress God because “His delight is not in the strength of the horse (mighty armies, worldly power) nor his pleasure in the legs of a man (human strength).”  But God delights in those who fear him – those who stand in awe of him -  and instead of trusting in their own human abilities or resources, “hope in his steadfast love.”

By way of contrast, the wicked person doesn’t fear God – he doesn’t stand in awe of God.  The wicked has a low view of God:

Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God
before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
He plots trouble while on his bed;
he sets himself in a way that is not good;
he does not reject evil.” (PS 36.1-4

The wicked person has such a low view of God and such a lack of awe for God that he doesn’t think God can find out his sin or hate it.  He doesn’t act wisely or do good because he doesn’t view God as holy and just and serious about punishing sin.  He trusts in his own wits and strength.  Obviously, the Lord doesn’t find any pleasure in the wicked.

So let us fear God – stand in awe of him, take refuge in him, and hope in his steadfast love. For it brings the Lord pleasure when we trust in him for strength and help, not our own wits and resources.

photo by oscar alexander

  • http://isaiah48.blogspot.com/ Kim

    On page 198 of Pleasures of God, John Piper gives a great analogy of this that has stuck with me. He describes getting trapped in a terrible storm where your only hope is a small cleft to hide in. He writes:
    At first there was the fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found 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…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.

    God is not only the storm, but the refuge from the storm. He gets the glory for both His fearsomeness and His protection in Christ.

  • http://www.theblazingcenter.com Mark Altrogge

    Wow Kim,

    What an excellent comment! Brilliant insight by John Piper. Thanks for writing this.