Embracing the Holy Terror

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Last week, we discussed how true love for God can only be birthed in our lives by encountering His love for us. As we pursue deeper intimacy with the Lord, the guiding compass will always be the divine love He first showers on us. Only the passion of His cross can inspire us to carry our own. To think we can actually give something back to God that He did not first produce within us is not only arrogant, it smacks of a slavery mentality.

When a slave learns to love his master, he is no longer a slave, but something else. He has progressed perhaps to a bondservant (a willing slave – a “love slave”), or even a friend. In fact, our goal is to move beyond slavery into an understanding of our sonship in the Lord. Romans 8: 14-16 says:

“…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

There is a high calling in Christ to move beyond fear-based service, to which the law itself is limited to effect. Of course, there is a very valid type of ministry that aims to produce the fear of God in men. The fear of God is truly the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10), and without the conviction of sin, there can be no repentance. In fact, this is a very common trait in the ministry of an evangelist, and Proverbs 11:30 says “he who wins souls is wise.”

We never abandon the fear of the Lord, but we must grow into a maturity that produces the love of God. Fear of punishment will produce an immediate response, but only the love of God will produce a sustained relationship. As we stated in earlier lessons, the love of God is not divorced from purity. But righteous living cannot take hold in the depths of our heart without us being enraptured by the goodness and beauty of the Lord.

When we taste His beauty, our hearts become undone, and we cannot help but to serve Him in righteousness. Only the inspiration of His unconditional love for us will draw us beyond fear and into bridal love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Many people cannot seem to embrace the paradox of the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord. This is why many seek to water down the definition of fear as being “reverent awe” or simply “respect” for God. But John, the love apostle, who is called the disciple whom Jesus loved, was so terrified when He encountered the King of Glory in Revelation 1 that he fell to the ground as though he was dead!

Mankind is actually built with a normal, healthy capacity to fear that must be satisfied. This is why we turn to extreme sports and horror movies and roller coasters. Most people who shun the concept of the fear of the Lord are actually in bondage already to the fear of man. The fear of man is a “snare” the scriptures say, and to fear man is much more oppressive than to fear God. David said, “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (2 Sam. 24, 1 Chron. 21).

God is truly a holy terror, but also the kind you can delight in. When we “understand” the fear the Lord (Prov. 2:5), we actually want to tremble in His presence. It is not an irrational panic attack. We desire to shake in our boots, because it is the immensity of His love that frightens us. It is not a slavish fear. We are terrified by his beauty. And we know that even His judgments are sent merely to drive away every hindrance to intimacy.

The fear of the Lord is simply a tutor to draw us into a deeper communion with Him. This is obvious when one considers the many blessings attached to the fear of the Lord. For one, He “confides in those who fear Him” (Psalm 25:14). The angel of the Lord also encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them (Psalm 34:7). Or how about this – “those who fear Him lack nothing” (Psalm 34:9).

To fear the Lord is simply to agree with love, and to literally hate evil. Consider these blessings:

“The fear of the Lord adds length of life, but the years of the wicked are cut short” (Prov. 10:27).

“Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Prov. 22:4).

To fear God is not masochistic. It is actually to choose life and liberty and blessing. We also find, along the way, that our fear is overtaken by passion and an intoxicating hunger for more of His presence. Fear somehow is transfigured into pleasure, and we begin to “delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:3). I tell you that this pleasure is more addictive than crack rock.

I have come to the point in my life where I actually want to encounter angels that seize me with fear. I literally want to see the Lord like Moses did, even if it scorches my face off. During such encounters, we regret ever saying such words, because of the sudden grip of holy fear in that instant. But nevertheless, there is an addicting hunger – a passion – that drives us closer to this all-consuming God, even to our own hurt. We are compelled to reach in and touch a level of glory that will knowingly cause us to die.
Let us continue to press into this love that overcomes fear. This dangerous love that flirts with death to self and compels us toward a greater resurrection. Above all, let us fix our eyes on Christ, so the example of His own passion is reproduced in us.

John Crowder, 3/17/2005