Why Should We Fear God?
“FEAR God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived.” (Revelation 14:7) These stirring words were first heard by the aged apostle John in a vision. Uttered by an angel flying in midheaven, they were directed particularly to people living during this time of the end, the opening period of “the Lord’s day.”—Revelation 1:10.
Yet how inappropriate these words may seem to some! Many even doubt the existence of God, let alone fear him. For a number of those who claim to be Christian, the idea of fearing God seems out of date. The love of God they can accept. But fearing him seems to smack more of the Middle Ages. Is this how you view the matter?
Jesus’ Fear of God
If so, consider what it means to be a Christian. According to the Bible, being a Christian involves following closely in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:21) Now, while there is no doubt that Jesus loved God, the Bible makes it very plain that he also feared him. Isaiah, speaking prophetically about Jesus, said that he would have “the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 11:2) Interestingly, though, this fear was not a burden on Jesus. We should not think of it as being the way a child fears a brutal father or a population is terrorized by an oppressive ruler. In fact, Isaiah also prophesied about Jesus: “There will be enjoyment by him in the fear of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 11:3) How can you enjoy being afraid of someone?
The fact is, in the Bible the word “fear” has a number of shades of meaning. There is the physical fear or dread that we feel when someone wants to do us harm. Thus, the Israelite armies “were very much afraid” of Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:23, 24) Then there is the fear of the startlingly unexpected or unknown, such as Zechariah felt when suddenly confronted by Jehovah’s angel in the temple. (Luke 1:11, 12) However, the fear Jesus felt for his Father was unlike either of these.
Rather, the original Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible for “fear” often refer to a profound reverence and awe of God. Such was the godly fear that Jesus had and that the angel was encouraging everyone today to cultivate. This respectful awe, or fear, takes root in our heart when we meditate on Jehovah’s might and power and compare it with our own absolute insignificance. It grows when we contemplate his mighty works, and it is also developed by prayerfully remembering the fact that he is the Supreme Judge, with the power to give life as well as to punish with everlasting death.
Such fear is vital because it holds us back from doing wrong and from taking God for granted, as it were. It helps us to avoid an attitude such as: ‘God will forgive me. He knows that I am weak,’ when we are faced with temptation and might rather give in than fight. As Proverbs 8:13 tells us: “The fear of Jehovah means the hating of bad.” And Proverbs 16:6 adds: “In the fear of Jehovah one turns away from bad.” Adam and Eve failed to exercise this proper, healthful fear of Jehovah when they disobeyed him. The result? They felt another, negative kind of fear and hid from his presence. Adam said: “Your voice I heard in the garden, but I was afraid.”—Genesis 3:10.
Unlike Adam and Eve, Job was a man who remained faithful to Jehovah despite the most severe testing. Why? Jehovah himself said that Job was ‘a man who feared him and therefore would turn away from bad.’ (Job 1:8; 2:3) Today we must be sure that Jehovah can say the same thing about us! The fear of God is proper, and it must be a part of our thinking.
Fear of God and Fear of Man
Fear of God is a natural feeling that gives us the same kind of security that a father who inspires deep respect gives to his children. Such fear also helps to banish the unpleasant, negative fear of man, which is a snare. (Proverbs 29:25) One who did not learn this lesson was Urijah, the son of Shemaiah, who preached in Jerusalem along with Jeremiah before 607 B.C.E. Unlike Jeremiah, Urijah allowed fear of the king to ensnare him. He stopped preaching and fled from his assignment. Eventually, the king caught him and had him killed. (Jeremiah 26:20-23) How could Urijah have avoided that sad fate? By developing a fear of Jehovah that was stronger than his fear of man.
Jesus, after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, counseled his followers: “Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer.” (Revelation 2:10) History demonstrates the need of that counsel, since Christians—from the Roman arenas to the Nazi concentration camps—have faced terrifying situations. How have they been able to conquer the fear their enemies tried to inspire? By applying Jesus’ words: “Do not fear those who kill the body and after this are not able to do anything more. But I will indicate to you whom to fear: Fear him who after killing has authority to throw into Gehenna.”—Luke 12:4, 5.
At Psalm 19:9 we are taught: “The fear of Jehovah is pure, standing forever. The judicial decisions of Jehovah are true; they have proved altogether righteous.” So there is nothing negative about the fear of God. It is pure and protective and makes a servant of God stronger than his enemies. Like Jesus, a Christian finds satisfaction in this fear in the same way that he enjoys all other blessings from Jehovah.—Isaiah 11:3.
Hence, it is entirely appropriate for the angel to urge all mankind today to fear God. Without proper godly fear, we will likely give in to wrong impulses or succumb to fear of man. If we cultivate the proper form of fear, we will be helped to act wisely. “The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10) True, we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) And we should also be in awe of him, respecting him, or, in the words of the angel, “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived.”—Revelation 14:7.
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If Urijah had had a deep fear of Jehovah, fear of man would not have been a snare to him