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Mable was sitting in my office crying. I asked her why she was crying. She said it was because she was looking at my Bible on the desk. That was perplexing. I asked, “When you look at my Bible, you cry. Why is that?” She said,
You don’t understand. When I look at your Bible, I think about God. When I think about God, I reflect on God the Father. When I think about God being a Father, I reflect on my father. And when I think about my dad, I begin to cry. He was a mean and cruel man. He used to beat me for the fun of it. He would do many horrible things to me. That is why I am crying.
Fear of God Continuum
Mable had a fear of the Lord, but it was a poor interpretation. Her thoughts about God came from her personal experience with a cruel man, not from her understanding of God the Father. Because of her wrong opinion about God, she did not have a pleasant experience with the Lord.
Your understanding of God determines the kind of experience you will have with Him. If your disappointments are the benchmark for what you believe to be right about God and His Word, you may have a complicated relationship with Him. Experience over truth is experiential shaping influences, which is a person mapping their experience over the truth about God.
The experiential method says, “My personal experience is how I interpret God, which gives me an understanding of God that leads to my experience with Him.” The biblical method says, “God’s Word gives me my interpretation of God, which leads to my understanding and experience with Him.”
When you think about God and you, what are your thoughts? How does God view you? These are the right questions to ask yourself when thinking about what the fear of God means. Mable was afraid of God because she did not understand Him.
Did you know that even though you may not have a clear understanding of the fear of God, you do have a functioning experience with God based on your improper definition of the fear of God?
It is unfortunate that our language does not always convey the contours needed to understand the Bible correctly. The term fear of God is one of those terms that suffers from language limitations.
If you mix language limitations to bad experiences and allow those two things to become how you view God, there is only one outcome: you will not accurately know and experience the true and living God.
Mable is not a minority report when it comes to an understanding of the fear of God. When many Christians think about the fear of God, I suspect their knowledge of that term is faulty. But more than flawed, some of them upload the term with something along the lines of being “afraid” of God.
R. C. Sproul –
The fear of the Lord described in Proverbs 1:7 is the fear of a converted person, a reverent love that understands God’s grace toward the sinner who trusts Christ and who wants to do what is pleasing to the Lord. This kind of fear recognizes the Lord’s character and His holy love. – R. C. Sproul, The Fear of the Lord
C. S. Lewis –
The (Lord) is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work…provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know. It surpasses reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. – C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
The Important Role of Fathers
To understand the fear of God, you must go back to the Garden of Eden where Adam experienced it. After the fall of Adam, two things needed to happen to him for him to be right with God:
Adam’s initial response was to run away from God because he knew there was a need for justice for what he did—he was aware that someone had to pay for his actions. Adam sinned. Thinking he had to pay for his sin, which was correct, he ran and hid.
In a sense, Adam had a fear of God. The problem was how his fear of God was not a complete understanding of what the term means. Adam ran and hid because he knew there must be punishment (justice) meted out for what he did (Genesis 2:16-17).
Adam was not delusional. Adam did what you and I would do. He was terrified. He knew God. He believed what God said. He knew he could not escape the wrath to come. God was to be feared (Genesis 3:10). If God’s wrath were all we knew about God, the complete definition of the fear of God would be strictly along the lines of horror, terror, and dread.
Mable saw God this way because it was her only experience with a father figure. It made complete sense to me how she felt terror at the thought of having a relationship with any father, especially God the Father.
Adopted kids who had similar interpretations as Mable, though they never had an experience with their bio-dads, can be like this. They were similarly tempted to live with a fear of being rejected by God the Father because they understood the painful rejection of their biological fathers.
The role of an adoptive father is essential. The new dad has an incredible opportunity to redefine what a redemptive father is like while pointing the child to their ultimate redemption in God the Father.
The same goes for children who have passive dads. In one sense, the stories are the same: unkind, harsh, cruel, distant, passive, or unloving fathers have a role in shaping the definition and conclusions kids come to regarding the “fear of God.”
If all that these kids know is a punishing Father, they will not be able to have a good and biblical view of God the Father. A child who can only think in the “sin, punishment, justice construct” will have a hard time relating to God.
Fortunately, Adam’s experience with God did not end with his fearful understanding of God’s holy justice. Adam knew he had sinned and he knew God would keep His Word—there was hell to pay.
God is holy, and He must punish sin. There is no escaping this truth. No sin will go unpunished. Because he knew this, he was living in the dread and fear of the consequences of his sin.
What Adam (and Mable) was not calculating into the equation was how God, the holy Judge, was going to punish his sin. Because there was no gospel in Adam’s frame of reference, the only thing he could do was pay for his crimes against the divine. But Adam learned that his holy and just God was loving too.