Before, life was easy because God’s sovereignty always seemed inclined toward the things I wanted anyway, but now, life is hard because I see that God’s sovereignty may also be inclined towards the things I dread, the things I would not wish for.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Not only that, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the Christian life. The Bible makes it clear that to love God, to honor God, to obey God, we must fear God. But “fear” is a word with many dimensions, many definitions. In what ways are we to fear God?
Much of what I know about fearing God I learned from R.C. Sproul. Looking back to Luther, Sproul distinguished between servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear is the anxiety of a man who is terrified of what an evil person may do to harm him, the fear of a slave who is about to face the whip, the fear of a prisoner who is about to face the rack. Servile fear, he says, “refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.” We who are loved by God need not fear him in this way, for he bears no malevolence toward us.
But filial fear is very different. It is the fear of a child for a father—an honorable child for a kind and loving father. Its motivation is not the fear of consequences, but the desire to not bring dishonor or shame upon loved ones. Such a person “has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves,” says Sproul, “not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.”
I have feared God in this way since I was young. From the time I was a child my parents made the Proverbs part of my spiritual diet, and I have always known the importance of having a healthy fear of God. I have taught my own children that “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments” (Psalm 112:1)! To honor God we must fear God—to have a deep and abiding sense of God’s power, God’s majesty, God’s holiness, God’s sheer otherness. We live best when we live with a healthy fear of God.
So I do fear God. But these days I’m also finding myself afraid of God. I fear him in that sense of rightly assessing his power, his abilities, his sovereignty. But I’m also afraid of the ways he may exercise them. It was, after all, just a month ago that God exercised his sovereignty in taking my son to himself. My life of ease and privilege was interrupted by a loss so great I would never have allowed myself to even imagine it. In one moment God delivered a blow that staggered me, that very nearly crushed me.
It was, of course, God’s right to take Nick. I know that. I affirm that. The God with the ability to give is the God with the right to take. Willing as I was to receive Nick as a gift from God’s hand, I cannot and will not begrudge the same God for taking him back. Like Job, I will bless the name of the Lord in the giving and in the taking.
But it is God’s ability and willingness to take that leaves me fearful. For if Nick’s life was so very fragile that it could end in a moment without obvious cause or explanation, why not the lives of others who are precious to me? If God has called me to suffer this blow, why not another? If God took my beloved son with such speed, with such ease, with such finality, what else might he take? Who else might he take? And how could I bear such a loss?