Saturday, August 13, 2011
The Fear of God
Peter regularly challenges his readers to live in “reverence,” which in the Greek is the word phobos (where we get the word “phobic”), and is always a reference to the Fear of God – a common concept throughout the OT (for example, the entire wisdom of Proverbs is rooted there, based on Prov. 1:8).
I’ve had trouble with this. Knowing what we know about the grace and love of Jesus, it is easy to develop a concept of him in which he’s frankly not very scary. I find myself having to conjure up feelings of fear for a sermon if the passage for the day touches on it.
There’s a brief mention of fear in the passage I’m studying this week (1 Peter 3:1-7). Wives of unbelieving husbands are called to quietly influence their husbands through their “purity and fear.” Somehow, this context brought it all together for me, and maybe my thoughts here could help you as you consider it. These wives may or may not be able to actively participate in the worshipping community – Peter is calling them to honor their nonbelieving husbands, which means some of them would have been restricted from attending. That means “purity and fear” are a normal part of their lives, a way of connecting with God quietly even if their husbands are angered by their faith.
The point is that the “fear of God” is Peter’s way of describing a life lived entirely conscious of God’s living and active existence, entirely conscious of his involvement in every part of our life, entirely aware of him. It impacts our choices, our attitudes, and even helps us endure difficulties, because we are more focused on that fear than lesser situations. Isn’t that the nature of fear? In my own life there are too many examples of this, so I’ll go to a common fear:
For several years after I watched arachnophobia in the 4th grade, I lived the title of the movie. A hair moving on my leg as I fell asleep was surely a dangerous spider – sleep, especially camping, was miserable. And when there actually was a spider in the room, you can be sure that did everything in my power never to lose sight of it (after all, the spiders in the movie waited until people were asleep or not looking). The point, which can get lost in my weakness, is this: the lifestyle of fearing God is being aware of his activity and presence.
For Peter this had come alive like never before: not only had he seen Jesus walk on water, raise the dead, turn water to wine, heal the sick and more, but he had also seen Jesus alive after he had died himself. Not only did he see Jesus resurrected, but he watched him ascend to heaven. Not only did he see Jesus ascend, but he experienced the fiery tongues of Pentecost and the subsequent power of God pulsing through himself! Not only that, but Peter had seen God strike two believers dead for lying about their donation. The list goes on. For Peter, there was no option but to fear God; God had proven to him that he is present, active, worthy of worship. The metaphor breaks down; God’s presence is one of peace, hope, and love (unlike a spider); although there are some notable similarities: God’s presence is an awareness of the unknown: what might that thing do to me (the question I was unconsciously asking about the spider)?