Our precious son turned five this past January. He is a very good boy but is attempting to push the boundaries a little farther than ever before. There are times when he doesn’t listen as fast as he used to and moments when he talks back saying “no” instead of “yes” to something we’ve requested him to do (or more often, something we’ve asked him to stop doing). Now, as most of you know, neither I nor my wonderful wife are exactly stern personalities. Dispensing discipline is not one of our greatest joys, but it is one of our duties if we’re going to attempt to be good parents. As I tell Benji, we don’t like having to give him “consequences” (aka spankings), but it is our God-given responsibility to try to make sure that he remains a good boy and that he is obedient to parents and nice with his words and deeds. I have now had to give him enough “consequences” that when he doesn’t listen, I mostly just have to say “here comes the daddy!” and he straightens up (at least for the next 37.24 seconds or so!). Should my son fear me? Yes (at least in the right way and to the right degree!). Do I love him? Yes (in every way and with all of my heart!)
Fear is not often a word associated with God in the present culture of the world, or for that matter in the culture of the church. We sing songs about Him being our friend, some even open up prayers informally calling Him “Daddy” instead of using the more traditional address of “Father”. We love to focus on a God who is closer than a brother and who has plans to prosper His children and bring them a hope and a future (Prov. 18:24; Jer. 29:11). Now I’m not criticizing the concepts I’ve just mentioned for I think they offer a good balance to the view of God in days gone by that saw Him merely as a distant dictator looking to hammer anyone who so much as thought about sinning. That being said, the Scriptures plainly teach that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that there certainly can be no friendship with God apart from fearing Him (Prov. 1:7; Psa. 25:14). One of the strongest admonitions to fear the Almighty comes from the lips of our Lord Himself in Matthew 10:28 where He declares that we should “not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him (God) who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” When Isaiah encountered the Lord in the temple his first reaction was not to rejoice in God’s presence, but rather to quiver and declare that he was undone, for he was an unclean man who dwelt in an unclean land (Isa. 6:5). Peter had a similar experience upon receiving the revelation that Jesus was more than a prophet. He didn’t shout for joy that the Lord was in his midst but rather asked that Jesus depart from him for he was a sinful man (Luke 5:8). Likewise, John (perhaps the closest thing to a best friend our Lord had during His physical earthly ministry), upon seeing the glorified Jesus while he received the Revelation didn’t say “Hey buddy, good to see ya again, how’s it hangin’”, but rather fell on his face as a dead man (Rev. 1:17).
A child should fear their father if they’ve done wrong. If Benji didn’t fear me (again, in the right way and to the right degree) when he did wrong, those witnessing his misbehaving and not seeing me make any attempt to correct him would conclude that I was not a good parent. On a similar note, a criminal should fear the judge if he has done wrong. A judge who was known for letting everybody off no matter what would not be seen as good and certainly would not be respected. A sinner, which by the way includes all of us (Rom. 3:10), should fear to stand in the presence of a Holiness. So, should we fear God? Yes! So why do so many people not fear Him? Perhaps many reasons could be given but we’ll focus on two, ignorance and arrogance.
I remember going to Busch Gardens on a youth group trip as a teenager. I was kind of a quiet and shy guy, so to go on such an outing was quite an intimidating experience for me. Adding to my insecurities that weekend was the fact I had never been to the amusement park before. A couple of fellow youth group members took me “under their wing.” At one point in the day they led me to a bridge and told me that it was the best place in the whole park to see all that it had to offer. Little did I know that the bridge was the splash zone for a ride called “The Tidal Wave.” To be on that bridge was a certain ticket to an unexpected baptism, not exactly something the shy guy would have knowingly signed up for. I stood there for a moment until one of the adult leaders who happened to notice that something “funny” was going on came up behind me and told me that I needed to go to the other side of the bridge quickly. I made it to safety just before the splash down came! When I was standing there on the bridge I wasn’t afraid. Why? Not because the tidal wave wasn’t coming, but because I didn’t know the tidal wave was coming. Obviously the “villains” in this story were the teenagers trying to take advantage of the shy boy. The “hero” was the adult leader who warned clueless shy boy to get off the bridge. Why don’t some people fear God? Not because they shouldn’t, but because they’re ignorant. Not because judgment is not coming, but because at this point in their life they don’t know that judgment is coming. They don’t know, or at least recognize, that they are sinful and that God is holy and that they stand worthy of condemnation apart from the grace of God. Now, I’m not a hellfire and brimstone preacher, at least in style. I don’t believe that we have to be “mean” when we talk of judgment and I certainly don’t believe that we should ever come across as “self- righteous” or “holier than thou.” But, there is a real God, there is a real judgment, there is a real heaven, there is a real hell, there is a real eternity, there is a real tidal wave and those of us who know it aren’t doing those ignorant of it any favors by not telling them about it. Yet, our culture (world culture as well as church culture) tends to view those who will inform us about judgment as “the villains” and those who see us in danger but say nothing in the name of tolerance or some such thing as the “heroes.”
I remember going to have dinner at a dear friend’s house, an older lady that I considered to be more of a second mom than a friend. She loved the television show “Judge Joe Brown”, so much so that she had over a hundred-six hour VHS tapes on the shelves of her home. She happened to be watching a tape of the program when I arrived one night. I don’t necessarily recommend watching Judge Joe, but the episode on that evening was quite instructive. The plaintiff was introduced first. He was a man of small stature that had obviously been injured in some way due to the way he limped in to the courtroom. Next, the defendant came into view. He was such a big man that I think they had to zoom out to fit his whole frame on the screen. He stood about six and a half feet tall and probably weighed in at over 300 pounds. As the story unfolded it seems the two met one day on a busy road somewhere near Washington, D.C. The smaller fellow was driving down the highway in his foreign sports car when a Cadillac Escalade, with very dark tinted windows (this may seem like a minor factor—but trust me it’s important), pulls out in front of him. The plaintiff got so mad he fell into road rage. He followed the Escalade, the one with the dark tinted windows, for the next several miles, going out of his way so that he could tell the driver of the big SUV just what he thought about their driving capabilities. Finally, both vehicles were stopped at a traffic light. The small man (i.e. the plaintiff) got out of his car, slammed his door and went up to the Escalade, yeh—the one with the very dark tinted windows. He called for the driver of the Escalade (who he probably thought was a soccer mom or something), to open up so they could settle this matter. The door of the dark tinted window vehicle opens and, much to the plaintiff’s surprise, here is a six and a half feet tall, 300 lb, former Washington Redskins defensive lineman (i.e. the defendant). You would think the smaller man would apologize, tell the larger man to have a nice day, and return to the safety of his vehicle as fast as he could. However, cooler heads did not prevail. Rather than apologize and retreat, the plaintiff moved further towards the defendant and said, “what you gonna do, stand there or do something!” Two knocked out teeth and a broken collar bone later they found themselves in Judge Joe Brown’s courtroom. The plaintiff was “in the dark” for a time due to the heavily tinted windows in the Escalade. He was unafraid of the consequences of his road rage due to ignorance. But, when the door opened and he saw the size of his opponent and still continued to boldly taunt the ex-football player, that was arrogance. There are some folks, in fact I think most folks, who do not fear God because of their arrogance. Creation tells them there must be a Creator, their conscience tells them there must be a Holy Lawgiver, the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and Scripture tells them of their need for salvation (Rom. 1:18ff.; John 16:8-11; John 3:3). Yet, in arrogance they choose to reject Christ, convincing themselves that God would never send anyone to hell or that they are such a good person that even if He did send some people, He would never send them because they “never killed anybody” and they helped an old lady across the street or some such thing. One day, judgment will come and the Lord will scoff at the arrogant, those who have set themselves up against Him and His Anointed One (Psalm 2:1-12).
If you’ve read this far, you can no longer claim ignorance of God’s judgment, nor can you claim ignorance as to whether or not you should fear the Lord. You could still walk in arrogance I guess, but it wouldn’t be prudent. Once you fear Him, you’re beginning in wisdom and are ready to start or further a relationship with Him. If you’ve never confessed your guilt to a holy God, repented of sin, and put faith in Christ—that is, faith that He is the only Savior and that He, out of His great love, has paid the penalty for the sins of all who believe in Him—then I encourage you to do that today and you will know the joy of forgiveness. If you already know Christ and perhaps have known Him for many years, then pray for God to use you to help others come to Christ and walk in humility yourself so that you may come to know Him more and more.