What Does it Mean to Fear God?
What does it mean to fear God? Consider the words of Psalm 147:10-11:
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?
Sitting in his chair, trying to keep people from having fun? A cosmic grouch?
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.
A Humble Fear Of God
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. To see God in all his glory and then respond to him appropriately. To humble ourselves before him. To adore him.
We 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.”
The Wicked Do Not Fear God
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.
The wicked refuses to fear God.
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.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Saving Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have five children and five grandchildren.
Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.