Fearing God vs. Loving God

July 2011

We talk a lot about the love of God, but the fear of God is ignored. Interestingly enough, however, a study of the word “fear” in the Bible reveals one core word in Hebrew and one core word in Greek. These two words also express meanings of terror, reverence and worship. But at the root of these words is the concept of “fear”. I then looked at the frequency believers are either commanded to fear God or are described as God-fearers (based on the original languages). In the Old Testament there were 176 instances of “fear” versus only 29 commands or descriptions of believers loving God. Interestingly, in the New Testament (the part of the Bible that is generally about the “loving” God), fearing God outweighs loving God 25 to 20.

So why exactly are we called to fear God? After all, doesn’t mature love drive out fear (1Jn 4:18)? From my studies, I believe we need to fear God for three reasons:

  1. He’s terrifying. Take a look at the descriptions of God in Exodus 19:16-19, Psalm 18:6-15, or Revelation 1:12-16. If we even attempt to imagine these, it is clear that God is really scary to look at.
  2. He’s powerful. Read God’s description of Himself in Job 38-42. This is raw power we’re talking about, a power greater than that of the sun, which is our frame of reference for the greatest power of all.
  3. He’s the righteous judge (Ps 7:11; 50:6). He will judge evil and His judgment and wrath on evil will be perfectly just. And He will judge us believers, too (1Co 5). So we had better be afraid of Him!

Scripture makes clear that fear and love go hand-in-hand. We do not need to be exhorted to love, because we more naturally do so. However, because we become complacent easily, an enjoinder to fear is far more necessary. We must remind ourselves to be afraid of mighty, invisible God. So let us remember to fear Him and let that drive our actions.