Psalms 33; 36; 39

A Healthy Fear of God

“But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.” ­– Psalms 33:18 NLT

The fear of the Lord seems to be something we are afraid to talk about in the church today. I guess it just sounds so foreign to us. Fear is something we run from, not embrace. It doesn’t fit with our sanitized concept of God. Our God is loving and kind, gentle and forgiving. He is more like a kindly old grandfather figure who doles out treats to his grandchildren than a holy, righteous, and sometimes wrathful God who can and does get angry and hates sin. So we choose to reject any concept of fearing God. It makes Him seem too unapproachable and unattractive. Yet the Psalmists seemed to talk about the fear of the Lord a lot. And it seems to be a theme within the three Psalms in today’s reading.

So what is this fear of the Lord? And do we experience it? If not, why not? The Psalmist says God watches over those who fear Him, and that fear is linked to a reliance on God’s unfailing love. So the fear of God and the love of God seem to go hand in hand. They are not mutually exclusive. The Psalmist goes on to say, “For the word of the LORD holds true, and everything he does is worthy of our trust. He loves whatever is just and good, and his unfailing love fills the earth” (Psalms 33:4-5 NLT). He then goes on to talk about God’s creation of the world. “Let everyone in the world fear the LORD, and let everyone stand in awe of him. For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command” (Psalms 33:8-9 NLT). God is great, mighty and awesome. He is the creator God, who brought into existence everything we see. There is no other god like Him. That fact alone should create a fear and awe of Him. He is not ordinary and pedestrian. He is not normal and run-of-the-mill. He is extraordinary.

And the Psalmist goes on to speak of God’s power over the nations. “The LORD shatters the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes” (Psalms 33:10 NLT). He is greater than any human power has ever been. He is more powerful than any nation on earth that has ever existed. And recognition of that fact changes how we view God. “We depend on the LORD alone to save us. Only he can help us, protecting us like a shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we are trusting in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone” (Psalms 33:20-22 NLT).

A healthy fear comes from an understanding of who God is and what He has done and is capable of doing. He is all powerful. He is in complete control. He is capable of shattering mountains and nations. He created all things and He can destroy them. And yet, He has chosen to have a relationship with mankind. He has chosen to show His love to men and women, and extend to them His love, mercy, and grace. The Psalmist recognized and appreciated this. “What joy for the nation whose God is the LORD, whose people he has chosen for his own” (Psalms 33:12 NLT). That God would show love to any of us should blow us away. My love for God is directly linked to my fear of God. That a God this powerful, holy, righteous, and just should love me should astound me. And it should set me apart from those who do not love the Lord.

The Psalmist describes those who do not fear the Lord in sobering words. “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God to restrain them. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are. Everything they say is crooked and deceitful. They refuse to act wisely or do what is good. They lie awake at night, hatching sinful plots. Their course of action is never good. They make no attempt to turn from evil” (Psalms 36:1-4 NLT). With no fear of God, they have nothing to restrain them. They fear no consequences. Even if they believe in God, they do not think He is going to do anything. Their attitude is a lot like those described in the following passages:

“‘The LORD isn’t looking,’ they say, ‘and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.’ Think again, you fools! When will you finally catch on? Is the one who made your ears deaf? Is the one who formed your eyes blind? He punishes the nations — won’t he also punish you? He knows everything — doesn’t he also know what you are doing? The LORD knows people’s thoughts, that they are worthless!'” – Psalms 94:7-11 NLT

“‘Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?the Lord asks. ‘Do you really think anyone can hide himself where I cannot see him?’ the Lord asks.Do you not know that I am everywhere?’ the Lord asks” – Jeremiah 23:24 NET

It is our fear of God that prompts us to obey God. It is His love for us that empowers us to obey us. Fear alone will not last. But if I can comprehend His love and balance it with my fear of Him, I will respond in grateful love and obedience in return. Without fear, I will live in open rebellion. Without an understanding of His love, I will live in guilt and with a sense of burden. But when I recognize that the holy, powerful, all-knowing God has extended His love to me, I should respond in love. My fear of Him does not go away, but it will be coupled with an astounded and grateful love for Him.

Father, may I never cease to fear You so that my love of You is never superficial and maudlin. I don’t want it to be a sentimental kind of love, but one that understand who You are and all that You have done for me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men