Someone had just passed me a Peach Schnapps, encouraging me to enjoy the flavor of the alcohol and the feeling it would give me. I was 15 years old and at a high school party, torn between my convictions and the experience that everyone else was having. While I wanted to join in the “fun” there was a thought that rang in my head whenever I was faced with an opportunity to do something that I knew I shouldn’t- “What if Dad found out?” Now, for most people this fear is silenced by schemes to make sure that their parents never actually do find out (spending the night at a friend’s house, staying out later than their parents are up, etc.). For me the intensity of my fear came with the reality that my Dad was a cop and cops talk to one another when they find out they’ve interacted with another cop’s kid. (I’ve got a wild story about that that involves being pulled out of the car by the SWAT team, but I’ll save that for another time.) My understanding of my father’s position, his disappointment, and my punishment reminded me of my values, and aroused my fear enough to “pass” on the Schnapps and other opportunities throughout High school.
Here’s the thing, in my idiotic, immature, underdeveloped, and overly cocky high school brain I wasn’t thrilled that I had this fear. I wished that I could just do my own thing and not worry about the consequences from my father… BUT… I’m no longer a teenager, and while I regretfully still excel at being an idiot, immature, and cocky, my perspective of my fear of my father has changed to REALLY appreciate the fear I had. I embrace my fear of my father’s position, possible disappointment, and defiant punishment as a gift from God that helped me from making a lot of seriously stupid and hurtful choices. In this stage of my life I don’t see my fear as a hinderance, but as something that places loving constraints to living in a proper way (and not just proper because I didn’t “sin,” but proper because it was way better for me). I now realize that the fear I had, even when I didn’t like it, was rooted in my father’s love for me. My Dad’s potential anger and punishment would have been out of a desire for the best for me, a desire to keep me from my own stupidity.
This is why the fear of your ultimate Father (God) is one of the most important things about you.
If your perspective of God is solely a forgiving, loving, “no-big-deal,” “teddy bear,” friend, then you’re missing out on two significant things:
1. A guiding reverence for what is best.
2. A fuller understanding of God’s love.
A guiding reverence for what is best
Fear of God has to be rooted in a belief in His complete holiness. Holiness can be defined as: perfect in goodness and righteousness. If God is holy, then what He commands is both righteous (right and pure) and the results of living out those commands is perfect goodness (both morally and experientially). God’s holiness draws us to an ultimate morality that shows us the ultimate harmony, love, and life. If God is holy, then what He commands is perfectly good. Which means that going against what He commands is both morally and experientially bad. A reverence, or fear of the consequences of turning our backs on God healthy because it allows us to be guided away from something that is not what is best for us. Like my fear of my father, I look back and now see that if I didn’t fear my father I would have made decisions in High School that I would have enjoyed making at the time (believing I know best) but that I look back on now and am thankful that my fear restrained my stupidity.
A fuller understanding of God’s love
We also miss out on a fuller, deeper, more profound understanding of God’s love when all we think about is the “Jesus is my friend” God. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus is a friend, and to have that perspective is a beautiful reality but it can’t stop there. If my father was someone that was just my buddy in high school, I may or may not have done some of the foolish things I’ve already talked about, but I know for sure I would have done other things to hurt people, to act on my pride and to care less about responsibilities. The thrill of having a Dad that never disciplined me, never had me fearing the repercussions of my actions would be a dad I later see as partially loving at best and completely unloving at worst. He would be partially loving because He was not looking out for the best for me, but still cared enough to be my friend. He would be completely unloving if I realized the motivation of His “love” for me was only self-serving and that is why he never disciplined me. A truly loving father both loves and has a friendship relationship with his kids, yet still has the authority and uses that authority to guide his children in the right direction. A correct fear of God invites you to experience the full, powerful, disciplinary, holy, gentle, patient love He has for you.
For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out these two resources THEY ARE EXCELLENT!
Shorter read (blog)
Longer read (book)
When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch