The Fear of God

C.S. Lewis on the Numinous:

Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.” This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.

~The Problem of Pain, p. 17

I haven’t found a passage of writing that captures this well the nuances of the fear of God in Scripture. The concept is often easily misunderstood, especially when divorced from passages like 1 John 4:18, and Romans 8:1.

Calvin argued that this sense of reverence is essential for prayer. The Psalmist tells us that God’s grace is accompanied by this kind of fear:

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

~Psalm 130:3-4

Walking On Water

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:28-30

Why can’t I keep my eyes on the one who never takes his eyes off me? I would much rather walk in the storm with you than sit with my fear until you get here. And I’ve seen enough to know that if you want me to, I can do anything at your word. But in spite of your command, and despite my faith and courage two steps later I am choking on sea water and screaming for help. My willingness, my faith, my courage, and my personal pride can’t overcome the shakiness of my legs. Wave dancing to drowning in an instant. Why can’t I hold eye contact even while you hold me upright?
It felt good to put a foot down on the top of the sea and feel it stop on the surface. It felt better to swing the other leg over the gunwale and stand with you in the middle of a storm. At your word I could defy the facts that I had known my entire life. Water isn’t wet, if you command it not to be.
Why don’t you ever look away? My legs, my heart, my little faith quit on you all the time and then I’m amazed that you step back in and pull me up to stand on my wobbly feet. You know what you are working with. It seems like you would find better raw material, somebody with some muscle tone to their thighs and balance to keep them standing when the surface shifts. It doesn’t make sense that one of these times you haven’t let me sink below the surface permanently. Yet somehow, you go from standing over there across the chaos, to instantly dragging me back upright beside you again. I’m not amazed anymore that you can, but I’m still astounded that you will.
You reach down for the one whose dreams are greater than the capacity of his backbone. You grab hold of the one who doesn’t have enough faith to trust you even in the middle of a miracle. You pull up the one whose courage lasts two steps at a time. Then you walk back to the boat beside my scrawny legs and let me try again tomorrow.