God is love. So why should anyone fear love?

Tell a child that an invisible princess is watching the biscuit jar and there's good chance that the child will be afraid of being caught out by the princess and therefore won't sneak up and steal the biscuits. 

'Fear God' and 'God-fearing people' are very common English terms, but what does it mean? A question that frequently pops up: If God is love, why should we fear Him?

This page attempts to explain the meaning of 'God-fearing'.


Read the Bible - it will scare the hell out of you

God loves and He doesn't want us to be afraid. However, God doesn't love sin, he hates it, and since we are all sinners, we should be afraid that God hates what we do.

It's like if you drive a car under the speed limit, there's no fear of getting caught for speeding. (Of course, some people drive too fast and have no fear. People who have no fear, when it's logical, reasonable and rational to be afraid, are commonly known as fools.)

In Gen. 3:8-13 we read that when Adam sinned, he tried to hide from God because he was afraid. If we don't fear the wrath of God then we are implying that we are sinless, and no Christian claims to be sinless. 

Here are a few different definitions of 'God-fearing' that people might come up with:

  1. 'Fear', when talking about God, is synonymous with 'respect', 'reverence', 'piety', 'awe toward a supreme power', etc.

    Well, that may be so. But there's probably more to it than that.

  2. 'God-fearing' is an archaic term that's been bouncing around for so many years that we're not too sure of the original meaning. Similar to terms like 'God-parents' and 'God speed' (or is it 'God's speed'? See related page Godspeed.)

    Lots of words have changed their meaning over the years. Passion, for example, now means extreme pleasure, whereas it used to mean extreme pain, as in the time Jesus was executed.

    And the word 'executed' has become an auto-antonym: To execute a program on your computer is to start it running; to execute a person is to end their life. Has the English language always been so cute? No it hasn't. 'Cute' originally meant a deformity of the femur and tibia; 'bow-legged'.

    In English we might say; "Sorry, I'm afraid I forgotten your name." Hmmm... Afraid? Under what circumstances should that instil any fear? Of course, if you forget your own name then you really should be afraid. (See also "I'm afraid not")

    Sorry. I'm afraid it's not as simple as that either.

    A clue to the meaning of 'God-fearing' is to consider that we never say 'Christ fearing'. And this is because, whilst we regard Christ as the Saviour of mankind, through His sacrifice, we regard God the Father as the almighty, all powerful God. And it is irrational not to fear the wrath of anyone as powerful as that.

  3. There are several Proverbs that instruct us specifically to fear God, but it's not so obvious what God fearing actually means.

    However, Exod. 20:20 points out that fearing God keeps us from sinning. Logic tells us that God cannot love evil, because evil is the opposite of love. God loves, but He doesn't love everything. God loves the sinner, but not the sin, and He gets pretty peeved when we sin. If we die as a sinner, we go to Hell, and I reckon that's where most souls go. Hell, whatever that is, and God's anger, sound like things to REALLY fear!

    Fortunately there's a simple way out of this.

    The Hand of God

    Because God is love, He's a forgiving God. It's like if you cheat on your partner, you say you're sorry and you really mean it, and you promise never to do it again. Then, if you're lucky, your partner will forgive you.

    It's like that with God, but you're always lucky in that if you ask, with sincerity from your heart, He always forgives and then you are safe.

    All pretty simple really.

Paradoxically, if you truly fear God then you have nothing to fear.

This ruse doesn't work every time - it certainly doesn't work in my house!

Salvation cleanses us from sin, we then seek to please God and avoid sin. But while we remain human, we are certain to sin again.

Fortunately as Christians, we know that God will welcome us back to him if we again ask for forgiveness.


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