Friday, July 1, 2011

Fear God

In preparation to send the Twelve Disciples out on their first mission, Jesus provided an interesting set of instructions for their work. We have seen how Jesus wanted them to condemn stubborn towns, how they would be given words to say to Gentile kings on this Jew-only mission, and how the “Son of Man” would come before they finished traveling to all of the towns in Israel. What wise words are next?

Fear God
Let us begin this study with a really good Bible verse, 1 John 4:18:
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. NIV
The context surrounding that verse, 1 John 4:7-21, is one of the most beautiful sections of the Bible. John tells us that God is love, and if we love one another then God lives in us and His love is perfected in us. Because of that love, Christians will have no fear on Judgement Day. As the verse above attests, love drives out the fear of punishment, and the fearful do not have the full love of God. But John's version of God is very different from the God in the remainder of the Bible, and even different from the God about which Jesus preached.

When preparing His Twelve Apostles for their first mission, Jesus gave them a warning that violence and persecution would come when spreading the Gospel message (Matthew 10:21-25). Then Jesus tells them not to be afraid men who persecute them, but rather to speak the Gospel boldly (Matthew 10:26-27). In Matthew 10:28, Jesus' message of motivation takes a sobering turn:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.” NIV
Luke 12:4-5 offers a slightly more robust version of the same saying from Jesus:
“I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into Hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.” NIV
Diametrically opposed to the words of James, Jesus tells His Disciples that they should fear God, precisely because of the punishment which God is able to administer.

The fear of God is a fairly consistent view throughout the Bible. There are at least 130 Old Testament (OT) and 19 New Testament (NT) references to the fear of God (searching fear+God and fear+lord-God). In fact, in Genesis 31:42 and Genesis 31:53, the word “Fear” is used in place of the word for God.

Compare this to the 29 OT and 39 NT commands to love God (searching love+God and love+lord-God). That is a fear-to-love ratio of 2.19 overall, 4.48 for the OT and 0.49 for the NT. It is clear that God promotes fear over love, and that the NT is a departure from the original message.

The concept of “God is love” is farcical, because the words of 1 John 4:18 are true; there really is no fear in perfect love. Yet God's message, and Jesus' message as we see here, is based on a platform of fear, not a foundation of love.

It is a shame, too. I really liked John's version of God.


  1. Right! Christianity being a fear-based religion does not fit with John's idea of god. The gods of Peter, Paul, and John seem to be different deities.

  2. Thanks exfundy. It is a good thing that there are so many versions of God. You can choose the one you like best, and still have Scripture to back you up! ;-)

  3. I'm confused. I love God, and I fear God.
    Ahh, I must not love Him perfectly, that makes sense to me. If my love were perfect I would have no reason to fear Him because I would never displease Him.

    I think that the difference in the fear to love ratio between the OT and NT reflects the change in our position with God as a natural consequence of Christ's atonement and the indwelling of the spirit (if indeed any of this stuff is true :-). So what you are saying is that the scripture is at least consistent on this point. That is a comfort to me ;-)

    BTW - I hope you are well and I appreciate the things you give me to ponder.

  4. Thanks dsholland. I have been well, but hectically busy lately. I am finally getting a chance to relax and reflect again. :-) I hope all is well with you too!

    Great comment. I think that you are not confused at all, but rather that John is the one confused here. This was only a quick look at a complex topic, for sure.

    Looking at a stereotypical view of a father figure, at least one from decades ago, dads were both loved and feared. How much more so in a Heavenly Father? The OT, and to some extent the NT, both proclaim this perspective.

    As John suggests, that fear does come from a fear of punishment, a fear which Jesus still harped on quite a bit, especially in revealing the concept of an eternal Hell which was nowhere mentioned in the OT.

    John also seems to suggest that perfect love was attainable, that you should not have any reason to fear any more. As you point out, which fairly well represents everyone, is that our love is not perfect. So we come right back to fear, and right back to the words of Jesus.

    And that itself comes back to the ancient question for any ruler: Is it better to be feared or loved?

    As for your comment on the ratio, that is very true to some extent. Another reason for the shift is undoubtedly due to the nature of the NT being constructed primarily of the Epistles. And, as I think we can see here from the words of John, the Epistles are not completely accurate, and perhaps deal more with feelings and philosophy than what makes up the bulk of the remainder of the Bible.