What “Fear of the Lord” Does Not Mean
“I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
– Genesis 3:10
The Bible has a lot to say about “fearing the Lord.” To summarize the concept in an accurate but far too simple way, we can think about fearing the Lord as this: Recognizing the character and nature of God such that we think, feel, and act in joyful and reverent submission to this recognition.
Scripture is full of the joys of those who walk in the fear of the Lord, for instance: God is compassionate to those who fear Him (Ps.103:13), He is a friend to those who fear Him (Ps.25:14), those who fear Him keep His commandments (Ps.103:17-18), He instructs them in the way they should go (Ps.25:12), His love is as infinite as the heavens toward them (Ps.103:11), and He has abundant goodness stored up for them (Ps.31:19)….and that list draws on only three Psalms. Suffice to say, it is essential that one who loves and follows Christ “fears the Lord.”
However, there is a sort of fear that we should not have of the Lord, and we see that fear on display in the passage from Genesis quoted above. Adam and Eve have just rebelled against God’s one and only prohibition. The result is that, they’ve removed the protection of God from their hearts and have attempted to discern “good and evil” on their own. The first thing their newly opened eyes do is to make them ashamed and afraid.
When God Himself (likely the pre-incarnate Son) comes walking through the garden, Adam and Eve are scared because they realize that they’ve sinned, and they run from Him and hide. This is what false fear does, it makes God seem frightening and dangerous and un-faceable, while it makes a hiding place seem safe and protective. For Adam and Eve the hiding place was behind a bush or tree in the garden (likely with the serpent himself right there with them)….and before we chuckle at their naivety for thinking that foliage could hide them from the eyes of their Maker, we should recognize that the same fear often leads us to similar actions.
False Hiding Places
False fear of God will always drive us away from Him, especially if we feel we have something to hide (as Adam and Eve did). We see our sin, we recognize that it is wrong (or perhaps we don’t want it called out as sin…), and we’re scared to face God with it. So, whenever we “hear Him walking in the garden” – we hide. Perhaps we don’t hide behind a bush, but we might hide behind a remote control and our favorite TV show. We might hide behind Facebook or friends, we might hide behind another fun weekend with the family or another important activity at Church, we might hide behind a busy schedule or a well established routine. There are no shortages of “hiding places” in the world to which our fears might drive us whenever we hear the Lord walking in the gardens of our heart and mind.
But life and light and joy and forgiveness are never found in those fear-filled hiding places. Numbed conviction is not forgiveness. Distraction is not happiness. Entertainment is not life. And busyness for God is not fellowship with God. God had given Adam and Eve Paradise on Earth and their fears drove them to hide in one dark corner of it, shivering in shame with a snake curling around their ankles. In the same way, God has given us infinite and abundant life in His presence through Christ, and our fears often drive us to hide in some dreary, repetitive corner…sometimes even singing His praises while avoiding His eyes.
So what do we do? How is false fear overcome? For Adam and Eve the temporary answer was a slain animal and God’s merciful preservation of their lives. However, post-cross we realize that the final answer – as with everything in reality – is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ – the True Hiding Place
We have reason to be afraid of God. He is a consuming fire, and – because of our sin – we are gasoline-soaked rags. But our fear will not be resolved by running from Him, but by running to Him. In Jesus Christ, God is both our Judge and our Refuge; He is both the One who slays sinners in wrath and the One slain to shield sinners from wrath; He is both Mount Sinai burning with destroying fire and the Rock cleft for us in which we can hide. Jesus Christ, who laid down His life and poured out His blood to drowned our sins in an ocean of mercy, now stands ready to receive all who would run to Him, He – and no one and no thing else – is humanity’s true hiding place.
Because of His death and resurrection, we do not need to fear God – that is, not in the way Adam and Eve feared Him. Instead, we fear God as we are taught to do so in Psalm 31:19:
“How abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you.”
In this verse those who fear God and those who take refuge in God are the same….true fear of the Lord drives us to hide in the Lord, and we do this only through Jesus Christ.
Living Eye to Eye with the Lord
So, my encouragement to myself and to all of us is to not hide from God like our first parents did. May we not allow sin or backsliding or shame to drive us into dark corners and to cause our hearts to avert their eyes from the Lord. Rather, may we stand in the light, opening ourselves utterly and unreservedly to our Judge and Savior…sin will have to go, yes, but He will not destroy us as He destroys it. We will be hidden in the true hiding place, the true refuge, Jesus Christ.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
– Isaiah 55:7
Compassion and abundant pardon await each of us who will leave our fearful hiding place and return to God in the name of Jesus Christ.