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

Our Very Miseries Will be Blessed- Calvin on Suffering

John_Calvin01When he wasn’t blasting the ‘effrontery’ of his opponents (dubbed miscreants and asses), John Calvin could write with gracious clarity and depth. The excerpt below shows the characteristic skill of his pen. I have long sensed a need to take more time to read passages like these with care. “Books,” says Thoreau, “must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

Since I don’t have to work too hard to find material like this today, I have to fight the reality that the abundance of good reading can turn me in to a page skimmer rather than a reader.

We frequently read about great theologians- which is helpful, no doubt- but we need to devote time to hearing from them directly:

Faith does not promise us length of days, riches, and honors, (the Lord not having been pleased that any of these should be appointed us;) but is contented with the assurance, that however poor we may be in regard to present comforts, God will never fail us. The chief security lies in the expectation of future life, which is placed beyond doubt by the word of God. Whatever be the miseries and calamities which await the children of God in this world, they cannot make his favor cease to be complete happiness…

In short, if we have every earthly comfort to a wish, but are uncertain whether we have the love or hatred of God, our felicity will be cursed, and therefore miserable. But if God lift on us the light of his fatherly countenance, our very miseries will be blessed, inasmuch as they will become helps to our salvation.

Thus Paul, after bringing together all kinds of adversity, boasts that they cannot separate us from the love of God: and in his prayers he uniformly begins with the grace of God as the source of all prosperity.

In like manner, to all the terrors which assail us, David opposes merely the favor of God,- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” (Ps. 23:4). And we feel that our minds always waver until, contented with the grace of God, we in it seek peace, and feel thoroughly persuaded of what is said in the psalm, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance,” (Ps. 33:12).

~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion