Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. (Malachi 3:16)According to the Scriptures God has special regard for those who fear him. The concept of fearing God has been a confusing one for many people. I remember many years ago, a good friend of mine who was just beginning to read the Bible encountered this concept. He told me that upon reading about the need to fear God, he closed the Bible. His desire was to love God (good desire), but his understanding of love did not allow for the inclusion of his understanding of fear.
I say "his understanding," because I don't think he was able to grasp the biblical meaning of fearing God. He confused a common use of the word "fear," which is the emotion of being afraid, with the kind of fear that is referred to in the verse I quoted above.
I don't know if you have the same difficulty with this concept that my friend had, but I have the impression that there is quite a bit of confusion over it.
Whatever we may think of the term, the Scriptures see the fear of God as a foundational part of life:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
So shutting the Bible is no way to properly deal with this important concept.
There are two ways I often hear this kind of fear explained by teachers of the Scriptures. The first is "reverence." I don't know if too many people understand the word reverence to start with, but I have the impression that it is thought of as thinking of someone or something in terms of great honor. It is associated with the emotion we may feel in the presence of a very famous or important person. This may result in our speaking to or acting towards this person with a great deal of deference. The problem with this term is that it lacks the kind of ongoing life response that is included in the concept of fearing God.
The second term frequently used to try to explain this kind of fear is "respect." As with "reverence," we behave in a special way towards someone we respect, but there is an emotional intensity lacking that the word "fear" conveys.
It may be difficult to find one word to use instead of fear to adequately convey an accurate understanding of what it means to fear God. I will try to illustrate what this concept is all about. Healthy societies have authority structures in place to protect the well being of their people. Good governments pass laws for the benefit of its citizens. These governments appoint officials to enforce these laws. Breaking laws have consequences. These consequences are designed as deterrents to keep people from disregarding those laws.
When we stay within the boundaries of the laws of our society, we need not be concerned about the consequences of breaking them. In other words, we need not fear the authorities when we abide by the law. It is only those who consciously break the law that have something to fear. Yet it is the law breakers who are the ones who don't really fear the authorities. It's the law keepers who actually fear the authorities.
To fear governing authorities doesn't mean that we live our lives being afraid of them. Far from it. Our fear keeps us from being afraid because we take their power over our lives seriously. Note too, how law abiding citizens react when they think they may have broken a law. That's when they get afraid.
And so it is with God. To fear him does not mean to be scared of him, unless we live in such a way that will bring his displeasure upon us. To fear the Lord means living in right relationship to him. When we fear him we consider who he really is and all he requires of us. Strange as it may sound, when we truly fear God, not only do we need not be afraid of him, we discover we need not be afraid of anything else either.