By Tyshawn Gardner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, Samford University
The Fear of God
Psalm 33:6–15, 18–22
In 1952, German-born philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich published his magnum opus, “The Courage to Be.” It instantly became a bestseller and a required text in universities and seminaries around the world, not only because of its masterful prose but because it spoke to the time.
The year 1952 was a time of uncertainty — the beginning of the Cold War, the proliferation of existential doubt, the spread of anxiety in every corridor of human life. The book confronts anxiety in three ways: anxiety of fate and death (ontological); emptiness and loss; and guilt and condemnation.
Those same fears exist today, not just in the public square but also in the church. People in every walk of life experience fears, from teachers and administrators to parents and children, and from the pulpit to the pew. Considering these fears, both in 1952 and 2022, we need the kind of courage only the fear of God gives us.
We fear God when we stand in awe of Him as Creator. (6–9)
The fear of God is proper respect and awe-inspiring reverence for His holiness, sovereignty and eternality. In Psalm 33:8, the psalmist declares, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him.”
All of creation must reverence God, who is powerful over all creation, including the waters and heavens. Man is not worthy of the reverence we owe God. However, there are times when we give this kind of fear to men and women.
We fear God when we willingly surrender to His plans as Lord. (10–15)
The fear of man opens the door to unhealthy fears, manipulative relationships and unmanageable obligations. What starts out as admiration and slight intimidation of a person will soon turn into habits, schedules and activities that drain the soul and empty us of life.
As the people of God, we should only fear God. The fear of God leads to life, but the fear of man leads to a joyless life. We should never allow the fear of living to rob us from the joys of having a life.
Even the mightiest of nations must bow down in reverence to God. Any nation who fears the Lord will be blessed. The wisdom of God is greater than any human philosophy.
Nations that honor God by embracing the counsel of the Lord will enjoy prosperity and posterity because the truth and wisdom in the Lord’s counsel does not fade away.
We fear God when we depend on Him as our Shield and Provider. (18–22)
The sovereign Lord is all seeing. He is aware of our physical locations as well as the disposition of our heart. Psalm 18 declares, “the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him.” Believers who reverence God can also look to God in hope for help.
As God’s eye is on those who fear Him, our eyes should also be on God. Keeping our eyes on the Lord means keeping our heads up and keeping our thoughts elevated as we await the One who has the power to deliver our souls from death and keep us alive in famine.
A healthy fear of the Lord gives birth to hope in times of trouble, and hope in God in times of trouble ensures help in times of trouble.
Help means relief, restoration, aid and assistance. Help implies there are some internal or external factors negating the progress of an individual or group, which requires some inside or outside aid and assistance to remedy the situation. Everyone needs help, but the fear of the Lord ensures hope and help.
For the single mother wishing and wanting the best of opportunities for her children, there is hope and help. For the person diagnosed with an incurable disease, there is hope and help. For the employee laid off due to the pandemic who later discovers they are ineligible for unemployment, there is hope and help.
When we fear the Lord, we have no need to fear any person or situation.