Fear can be a bad thing.
Fear of what others might think, of putting ourselves out there, of making a mistake can paralyze us.
Fear of the other, of those who are different than we are, of our neighbor can make us defensive and uncertain.
Fear is often a bad thing.
But sometimes fear is good.
I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake while jogging last year, but my fear of death by snakebite saved me. (Oh, southern California. Yuck on the snakes!)
Fear of earthquakes reminds us to anchor our bookshelves and wire our pictures securely to the wall.
We’ve had cold virus after croup virus after random fever virus in our house this year, and I’m so afraid of going for Round 18 of what we call “The Creepy Cruds” that I’m making everyone who lives here wash their hands umpteen times a day including the baby.
Scripture speaks often about the fear of God. But what does that really mean? Are we supposed to be afraid of him like we are of rattlesnakes? Of earthquakes? Of disease?
In Luke 1, Mary sings:
Luke 1:50 (NIV)
God’s mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
Here fear is tied to mercy, and here we find our hint as to what Scripture means when it refers to holy fear.
Fearing God means letting him hold his proper place in our lives: above and before and in front of all else.
When God is in the right spot, everything else has a way of falling into place. Vocation, relationships, finances, family, free time. Everything.
The mercy God offers us is to order our lives and the lives of our children and our children’s children if we hold him in reverence, awe, and respect.
We play at many things in life. Hobbies, jobs, passions, distractions. Yet our lives are not meant to be lived flippantly, chaotically, or unthinkingly. Life is a gift, time is precious, and there is work to be done.
Put another way: God means business because he is in the business of caring for us, for our neighbor, for the world. His laws are just, his words are truth, his love is fierce and far-reaching.
When we fear God, waiting on him in hopeful, joyful anticipation, we find the mercy of his priorities becoming ours, his rhythms becoming ours, his hope becoming ours.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a 1935 sermon:
“Only God is in earnest. Entirely in earnest. Fear God’s earnestness, and give God the glory.”
How can you practice a holy fear while you wait this Advent?