The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

How to Recognize a Destructive Fear of God

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

All fears are not equal. There are good fears and bad fears. Good fears will help you in life. Bad fears will hold you back, burden you, and cripple you. Good fears are based on truth. For example, it is true that the soft tissues of your hand will become severely injured if you expose them to too much heat. Once you learn this, you develop a healthy fear of being burned which causes you to not get too close to an open fire or a hot burner. This fear of being burned does not slow you down in life. Instead, it becomes a helpful guide. When you start getting too close to a fire, this fear pops into your mind and you move back to a safer distance. This is a good, healthy fear to have, but it is also limited to certain circumstances. When you’re walking down a street, or lying in bed at night, you aren’t feeling paranoid about being burned. You only think of this fear when you’re in a situation where being burned is possible. It is not a haunting presence that follows you everywhere you go.

But bad fears do haunt you. Bad fears do not wait for a relevant situation to arise—bad fears often take the form of anxious thoughts which are constantly suggesting that you are in grave danger. Agoraphobia is an example of a bad fear. People with agoraphobia feel certain that something bad will happen to them if they venture beyond a certain zone of space. They don’t know exactly what will happen—but they are haunted by an endless list of terrifying possibilities. Vagueness is a very common characteristic of bad fears. Bad fears are not rational, they are extreme. They are based on lies instead of truth. Bad fears are limiting and crippling. People with agoraphobia are often afraid to leave their houses or their immediate neighborhoods. Suddenly it becomes impossible for them to buy groceries or visit friends, or enjoy a stroll in the fresh air. Bad fears rob us of the joy and peace which God wants us to experience in life. Sometimes bad fears are overreactions to a single traumatic incident, but other times they just creep over us as we start ingesting lies. To escape the trap of bad fears, we need to identify the false beliefs that are keeping that fear alive. This is especially important when it comes to bad fears that we have about God.

God commands us to fear Him. In the Bible, we find many references to “the fear of the Lord.” In Proverbs 9:10 we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” But when God talks about us fearing Him, He is talking about a good fear. Reverence is a good fear which comes from understanding truths about who God is and what He is capable of. God’s power is mind-blowing. He spoke this whole universe into being and He could uncreate it with a single word. He is holding all the cells of your body together even now. He created you from nothing. Just looking around at everything God has made teaches you that He is infinitely more powerful than you are. That is one truth. A second truth is that God demands obedience from His creatures. A third truth is that God gets angry when His creatures disobey Him and He responds by disciplining them. These three truths are very important to understand, but if we just stop here, we could easily go astray. We must add a few more very important truths to this list. God is good. God is kind and merciful. God is patient. God loves human beings. Listen to what God says about Himself in Exodus 34:6-7:

“Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.”

Does this sound like a God who is just waiting to shred you? No. God is slow to anger. He is not like an abusive father who starts beating his child the moment the kid makes one mistake. God is like a kind father who gently explains to his little daughter what she did wrong and shows her how to do better next time. God doesn’t harp on our past mistakes, and He never treats us like the sum of our sins. God responds to us based on how we are responding to Him inside. Do we want to please Him? Do we want to be in a good relationship with Him? If so, then God is very pleased with us and He is all the more patient when we mess up. God is like a good teacher who is very encouraging and patient with the students who are sincerely trying, but more stern and strict with the students who are just horsing around. We have to understand all of these things about God before we can develop a good fear of Him.

A good fear of God is like the healthy fear of being burned that we discussed earlier. Good fears are guides that steer us away from making foolish choices. They don’t haunt us every moment of the day—they only come to mind when we are in danger of making a wrong choice. Just as a good fear of being burned will only come to mind when you are close to something that might burn you, so also a good fear of God only comes to mind when you are feeling tempted to disobey Him. It is a good fear of God that steers us away from willfully defying Him. When we find ourselves not wanting to obey God, a healthy fear of being disciplined causes us to stay in alignment with His will. We know that His discipline can be very painful. We know that He is much stronger than we are, and we know that He is always with us, therefore there are no sins we can do in secret without God knowing. If we hide in a closet to do something we know is wrong, other people won’t know what we’re doing, but God does. God sees everything and knows everything. He hears all of our thoughts. We can’t keep any secrets from Him. Knowing all this keeps us motivated to respect and obey God. Reverence is a very good thing. Reverence actually makes us feel closer to God and more confident that we are pleasing Him.

But a bad fear of God has the opposite effect. A bad fear of God develops when true facts about God’s power are blended with lies about God’s Character. When we believe that God is a volatile, unreasonable, hostile Being who might suddenly lash out at us without warning, then we develop a bad fear of God. Often we’re taught that our fear is actually a good form of reverence, but no, God does not want His creatures cowering in terror before Him. He doesn’t want us cringing in His Presence and viewing Him like some cruel, indifferent King. God is very kind, good, and loving. When God tells us to fear Him, He is not talking about being terrified of Him 24/7. He isn’t talking about some oppressive burden that ties your stomach in a knot and makes you wish you could somehow get away from Him. It’s very important to recognize when you are caught in the clutches of a bad fear of God so you can take steps to get untangled from it. The first step is to ask God to show you what lies you are believing about Him and to help you unlearn them.

When you cling to a bad fear of God, you end up trying to distance yourself from Him.  When you accept lies about God, it’s like you close a door in His face and refuse to open it again. God then stands outside the door, knocking and calling out for you to let Him in so He can help you unlearn the lies you are believing. You have to choose to get up and open that door. If you don’t, God isn’t going to go breaking it down. He isn’t interested in forcing Himself on you. He gives you the option to decide how close you want to be to Him.

Don’t be content to keep doors between you and God. Realize that God does not want you to go through life feeling terrified of Him or distressed by knowing that He is always with you. He wants His Presence in your life to be a positive, comforting thing. He wants you to feel safe in His care and confident of His love for you. If you are struggling with a negative fear of God, ask Him to help you with it. Ask Him to get you into a better place with Him and to help you learn how to revere Him in a way that will entice you closer to Him instead of making you want to run away. God wants you to experience His best plan for your life, and being terrified of Him isn’t it.

FURTHER READING:
The Benefits of Reverence: Keeping Us Close to a Loving God
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them
Overcoming Your Fear of the Bible

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