Last time we talked about God’s immanence, his desire to connect with us and have a relationship with us. God wants “to dwell in our midst.” But what makes that even more amazing is God’s transcendence, His “Otherness.” God is so far beyond our understanding that we cannot even comprehend the difference between Him and us. But the ones who truly realize this show it in fear. Please note: “fear” is not a naughty word in the Bible. It is an entirely appropriate emotion in the right place.
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Isa 8:11-13. Whom you fear shows your faithfulness to God.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isa 11:1-2 Even the Messiah would “fear the Lord.”
That fear did not stop in the first century, under the New Covenant. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31
That word, while it can be translated reverence, also means dread and terror. Do not minimize it or weaken it because then you will miss the point of God’s transcendence. In Ex 33 18-23, Moses asks to see God. God tells him that He will allow Moses to see His goodness, but “you cannot see my face for man cannot see my face and live” (Ex 18:20. It isn’t that God will kill someone who sees Him; it’s that we mere humans cannot stand to see such a glorious Being—we would die from it; our physical bodies cannot take it!
Think for a minute about the call of Isaiah. Chapter 6 begins with the statement that he saw God on his throne, but what did he really look at? The throne, the train of his robe, the seraphim above the throne, and the smoke filling the room. Nothing at all is said about how God Himself looks, but even those surrounding things send Isaiah into a panic, sure he will now die because he, a man, has been in the presence of such holiness.
Look at Ezekiel’s experience in 1:26-28. He uses the words “like,” “likeness,” “appearance,” and “as it were” again and again. Is he really seeing God or something that looks like it might be God? And even that causes him “to fall on his face.”
When we weaken the concept of fearing God, we lose even the minute understanding we can have of God’s greatness, His glory, His holiness, and His might. Even the term we often sing about—awe—has become a word denoting the trivial. “That’s awesome,” we say of everything from basketball shots to a free ice cream cone on your birthday. We’ve turned God into a big Granddaddy whose lap we can jump into and say, “Hi Pops!”
When we lessen the fear, we lose the thing it was designed to create as well. that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son's son, …by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Deut 6:2, and in Ex 20:20, that the fear of Him may be before you that you may not sin. The fear keeps us from sinning.
And do not for a minute think that fear lessens love. For one thing, recognizing the awesomeness, in its true meaning, of God, and knowing that still He wants to have a relationship with us in spite of the great divide in our beings, should inspire love. God expects this love to be a natural reaction from us. “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, Deut 10:12.
A proper recognition of God’s transcendence, a being so far above us that He should not even care about us, yet He does, is essential to serving God properly.
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Ps 130:3-4