To Love and to Fear

God calls us both to fear and love Him.

It is when full of charity that one is holy.
     He walks in charity.
Every evil fears him;
     every good loves him.
He has honour upon earth;
     he has glory in heaven.
Love God:
     everyone will love you.
Fear God:
     everyone will fear you.

  - Colman mac Beógnai, Aipgitir Chrábaid (The Broom of Devotion), Irish, 7th century[1]

“And now, Israel, what does the L
ORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to love him, to serve the LORDyour God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD...”

  - Deuteronomy 10.12, 13

Fear is not generally regarded as a positive affection. Who wants to be afraid? Wouldn’t we all rather feel safe, secure, and loved, than have to live in fear?

This seems particularly to be the case when it comes to our relationship with God. God is love, as we know (1 Jn. 4.8); and He loved the world so much that He sent Jesus for its redemption (Jn. 3.16). This is good. We like to hear about God’s love for us, and that He welcomes our love in return.

But we don’t hear much about the fear of God these days. People fear many things, it seems: terrorists, the faltering economy, disease, losing their jobs, being found out in some sin or shortcoming. But we hear precious little teaching on the fear of God, and we don’t see much evidence of such fear within our ranks.

And yet, there it is: What does the Lord require of us? To fear Him.

What is the fear of God, anyway? Some will say it means to reverence Him, to be in awe at Him and to admire Him in a worshipful manner. OK, that’s true as far as it goes. But the fear of God is more than this.

The fear of God is a certain kind of terror or dread, related to Who God is and the kind of people we are. We should fear God for Who He is, and if we really know Who He is, believe me, we will fear Him. Our view of God tends to be more sentimental and self-interested than Biblical and real. Even our worship demonstrates this. Consider the still-popular praise song, “El Shaddai.” What a sweet, lilting, soothing melody in a song professing love for God. But which God? Why, El Shaddai, of course.

But wait a second: “Shaddai” comes from the Hebrew verb that means “to ruin or destroy utterly.” God is El Shaddai because He has the power to completely ruin and destroy whatever falls outside the bounds of His favor. Ask Pharaoh. Ask Nebuchadnezzar. Ask Herod. El Shaddai is typically translated, “God Almighty,” and not without good reason. The God we celebrate with this trivial ditty is the God Who is capable of dispensing utter ruin and complete destruction on all who, by their unyieldingly sinful ways, deserve every bit of wrath He has to pour out.

And if you do not think that includes you, then not only do you not know God as you should, you don’t know yourself, either.

We fear God, but not so that we flee or shrink from Him. Rather, our acknowledgment of the greatness and power of God is tempered by our experience of His love, particularly that shown in Jesus’ death for our sins. So, though we fear God, we fall down toward Him, and reach out to Him, that He in His might and power might save and receive us as His own.

Fear God, Who could ruin you in so many ways it will make your head swim. Fear Him, so that you tremble in His Presence, hoping against hope that His grace is as real as His wrath, His comfort as strong as His clout, and His mercy as close as His menacing mien.

And when, in the Presence of God, you experience that kind of fear, then relax. Because the One Who so bears down on you with the full weight of His wrathful glory, loves you, just as you are, in spite of all you are, for His own sake, and not for yours. He has diverted His mighty wrath onto His suffering Son, and through Him, He Who commands us to fear Him shows us why we should love Him all the same.

God loves us because it brings Him great glory to love us, when we deserve nothing but His wrath. So in the crush of the fear of God, love Him, love Him with all your might. When you fear and love Him like that, you’ll walk in His commandments full of gratitude and joy – and the hope of glory that evidences in you will provoke the curiosity of others.

For Reflection
1. Why is it important that we learn to fear God? Can we truly love God if we do not fear Him?

2. What’s the difference in the way we fear God and the way lost people will fear Him when He returns?

Psalm 2.9-12 (Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High)
To Christ the Lord be given all who humbly embrace Him and on Him call.
Be wise, be warned: His judgment comes to break the prideful, sinful ones.

Rejoice with fear in Jesus’ grace, and worship before His exalted face!
Beware His anger and judgment grim: How blessed are all who rest in Him!

Do I fear You, Lord? Do I really? I love You, but I'm sure I would love You more if I feared You as I should. Help me both to fear and love You, so that I…

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T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



[1] Carey, pp. 233, 234.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore