To this day I still have childhood memories of my dad tinkering around the house. When he was not at work, he was either in his recliner with his nose in the newspaper, working on one of our cars in the garage, or fixing the plumbing in the kitchen. My dad was a 'jack of all trades,' with the exception of one thing: electrical work. He had a healthy respect or 'fear' of electricity and would rarely try to perform such repairs.
When it comes to the 'fear of God,' some have defined it as having a 'healthy respect' for God. God is powerful. God can also be deadly! (Think of Lot’s wife, Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Saphira, Herod, etc.) But should our fear of God drive us away from Him? What does it mean 'to fear the Lord?' In his book, 'The Fear of God,' Arnold L. Frank helps to break down what the Bible says about such fear. He mentions no less than six types of biblical fear, some good, some bad. Today I would like to touch on the first example, 'Exclusively Ungodly Fear.'
At the core of this ungodly fear is the inherent knowledge of God who is of 'purer eyes than to behold evil...' (Hab. 1:13). Both unbelievers and believers (godly/ungodly) will at times express ungodly fear. Allow me to summarize.
The Fear of The Ungodly
The fear that needs to supplement the work of Christ. Frank writes, 'This is the fear of those who are persuaded that something must be added to the necessity of faith in Christ in order to have a right standing with God.' This has been expressed in the Protestant Reformation as being 'justification by faith plus works.' The Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, might come to mind. Frank explains that it was Luther who, 'in a prolonged vigorous effort tried to supply that which would be sufficient to give his soul confidence that God was pleased with him.' This fear is ungodly because it recognizes God's holiness but not man's complete sinfulness, and in an attempt to appeases one's guilty conscience the unbeliever seeks to outweigh bad works with 'good' works.
The fear of the 'almost Christian.' This is the fear of the ungodly who are 'in the house,' but are not 'of the house.' They 'have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof' (2 Tim. 3:5). This is the fear of the one who is the wicked and lazy servant of Matthew 25:24-30. When he addresses his master as 'Lord,' Frank warns, 'he is being only technically correct and superficially polite.' They honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him (Matt. 15:8).
The fear of the terrified. This is the fear that drives men away from God. It is the fear of fallen Adam and Eve in the Garden that causes them to attempt to flee from God's presence (Gen. 3:10). This characterizes the prodigal who has gone away from his father's home, without hope and without God in the world.
The Fear of The Godly
The fear that questions God's wisdom. Instead of saying with Job, 'The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord,' this fear drives one to ask, 'Why me?' Franks explains that this fear is ungodly because 'there is no agreement with the sovereign rights of an infinitely wise God to send in circumstances that He knows to be best.'
The fear that questions God's mercy. This is the fear that takes notice of afflictions but not of God's daily mercies. It is that of the indolent servant in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).
The fear that shrinks from God. This is the fear that is seen at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:18-20). As Thomas Manton sated, 'we are to fear God, and yet we are not to be afraid of God.'
So then, what is a godly fear? Great question! I hope to answer that over the next few entries!
For now, Grace and Peace! -Kevin
[See 'The Fear of God, A Forgotten Doctrine,' by Arnold L. Frank, Copyright 2009 (2nd. ed.), Nordskog Publishing.]