Being Afraid of a Never-Changing God
One of the things that gives the Christian so much assurance is how reliable and consistent God is. He is our “constant,” so-to-speak. We don’t have to worry about Him changing or being inconsistent with His nature. He is a solid rock to build off of. We cherish Scriptures like Hebrews 13:8 where we gather the concept that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God are the same yesterday, today, and forever!
However, when we dive into the old testament writings, it’s hard to have quite the same kind of peace. God becomes a little more scary. We aren’t really sure anymore if we want God to be the same “today and forever” because yesterday didn’t look too happy. We examine a side of God that causes us to be afraid.
In fact, this very truth is one of the reasons so many people are drawn towards atheism. God took a man and woman and emptied them of their eternity and banished them from their home because they ate some fruit. God killed the first-born children of Egyptians because of something their king was doing. He caused a flood to kill everyone in the world besides eight people. He told the Israelites to kill every beast, man, woman, and child in several cities. He allowed His own people to be taken captive by various world powers because of His jealousy.
There was a philosophical movement called the “gnostics” in the first several centuries. One of the problems they had was that there must have been a different God in the old Testament than there is in the new covenant. The God of Christianity is so loving and merciful. However, the God of the old seemed to be about arbitrary rules and punishment. They determined that the old testament God was an evil and selfish God. And, therefore, anything that He made (flesh and all creation) was inherently evil. John speaks out against this philosophy in 1-3 John. They even denied that Jesus came in the flesh and became fully human. After all, if He came in the flesh, that would mean He was evil, according to their thoughts.
Not only is this philosophy contrary to the Gospel, but it is contrary to logic itself. Why? Because God still had what we could consider “harsh” times even in the new covenant. For instance: Hell, allowing Christians heads to be cut off in persecution, the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. God is really the same yesterday, today, and forever. Sure, there are specific contexts to these events, but still! Should we be afraid of this “never-changing” God? The Bible tells us to fear God over and over. What does this mean? Should we be concerned?
In Exodus 20 Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving word from the Lord. The people were afraid. They saw the storm and lightning and the power of God. They begged Moses, starting in verse 20, saying, “you talk to Him and tell us what He wants, and we will do it. But we are afraid and do not want to talk to Him.” Moses replies in verse 20 saying, “do not be afraid, God did this so that you will fear Him.” Did Moses just contradict himself? He basically just said, “don’t be afraid, God wants you to be afraid.” Obviously, there is a semantic problem here. There is a specific context, and there is a specific word that has several different meanings, depending on the context. Both in Hebrew (the main language of the old testament) and in Greek (the main language of the new) the word “fear” basically means the same thing. It either means be frightful/afraid, respect, or awe. That word “awe” is deeper than just “respect.” It means being overwhelmed to the point where you are almost speechless. God didn’t want Israel to be afraid, or even to just respect Him. He wanted them to be in awe of Him. Why? If they realize His power and wisdom, they will be more likely to step away from their feeble power and wisdom and step towards His. “Do not be afraid, but recognize my power and wisdom, and that I am for you!”
In Luke 8 Jesus is taking a nap on a ship with his disciples. They are afraid because a harsh storm has arrived. For fear of being consumed they wake Him and say “Master, we are perishing.” Jesus speaks to the weather, and it stills by the words of His lips. And in verse 25 it says that they were FEARFUL and amazed at His power. Were they STILL afraid? No. They were in awe of Him. This is just one more sign that Jesus would use to bring them closer to trusting in Him.
“But Jesse, What about Ecclesiastes 12? Solomon says that the ‘whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commands.’” First, the word “duty” was added. It is not in most of the original Hebrew writings. So, it should be read, “the whole of man is to fear God and keep His commands.” In other words, “fearing God and keeping His commands” completes man. It fills the “eternity in our hearts” (Ecc. 3:11). Now one must define what “fear God and keep His commands” means! We know that Jesus said (and most all of the apostles echoed this in their writings) love for God and love for fellow man is the whole completion of the law and prophets. Every command hangs on love; even in the new covenant (1 Jhn. 3:23). We now know that in both the old and new testaments God says He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him (Ex. 20:20; 1 Jhn. 4:18). So, “fear” in Ecc. 12 must be more than that. Solomon is telling us that we are completed and made whole by loving God and His creation and being in awe of His wisdom and power. In 1 John 4:18, John says that God is love and there is no fear in love because it casts out fear! God casts out fear! If you are being led by fear, you aren’t being led by God. Paul tells Timothy that God doesn’t give a Spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. In Romans 8:15, Paul shouts out that we are sons of God, what can the world throw at us?
Could God destroy us? Sure! Has God done things that promote fright for those who don’t follow His will? Sure! Does God want us to be afraid of Him? NEVER! Only to fear Him! – Jesse