A couple of months ago I listened to a book which, at the time, I thought could be life-changing because it had adjusted a paradigm and refined a filter on one of those holy tension areas of being a follower of Christ. It was a book about the fear of God. And I was right about it being life-changing.
Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves rocked my world. While “reverential awe” is what I’ve had for most of my Christian life as a working definition for the fear of God, Reeves opened up a new filter. One which came into play this morning as I was reading in Jeremiah.
In Jeremiah 5, God’s indictment of Israel and Judah through the prophet is their failure to repent. Their transgressions were many and their apostasies were great (5:6) and yet they “refused to take correction” and instead “made their faces harder than rock” (5:3). And at the heart of the matter was a heart that did not fear God.
“But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.‘ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.
(Jeremiah 5:23-25 ESV)
They did not say in their hearts, “Let us fear the LORD our God.” Thus, out of their hearts came what Jesus would describe centuries later as “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15:19). But check out what should have been the catalyst for the fear of the Lord. Check out the attributes and actions of God that should have ignited this holy fear.
It wasn’t God’s power to judge. It wasn’t the fire of His holiness that could consume. It was His faithful, gracious, practical, daily provision. The God who gives rain in its season, the God who oversees the appointed harvests, is the God whose actions should evoke the fear of the LORD. Far from highlighting those attributes of God which would make one afraid of the LORD, the prophet’s appeal to fear God is because He is the One, who James would say, is the Giver of every good gift and every perfect gift from above, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). The goodness of God is at the heart of that which should evoke the fear of God.
Quoting John Bunyan, Reeves puts it this way, “Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God. Nothing can lay a stronger obligation upon the heart of God than a sense of, or hope in, mercy.” Mercy, that’s what the wayward children of Israel had known but failed to recognize.
For generations, despite their wayward, wandering tendencies, God in His mercy provided for their daily needs. Though they had inherited and inhabited a land which they did not build, though they enjoyed the abundance of vineyards they did not plant, they did not recognize God’s great mercy and grace and respond in a manner worthy of such unmerited favor. And so, they did not love with heart-bowing adoration the God who had loved them. They did not fear the LORD.
If I’m picking up on what Reeves is laying down, then the fear of God is not about being afraid of God. Rather, it is a love that trembles before God because His boundless provision, from daily bread through eternal salvation, reveals Him as One who is overwhelmingly holy, good, and glorious. And thus, He is to be feared with a sense of overwhelming love.
Recommend reading Reeves’ book. Thankful for the filter it has provided. Look forward to encountering more of the “fear of God” as read I the Scriptures.
That I might say in my heart, “Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain.”
Because of His all-abounding grace. For His all-deserving glory.