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What Does It Mean to Fear God?

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2019 24 Apr

A person stands in a canyon, looking up in awe at the rock formations around them.

As with all God’s attributes, there is an irony in attempting to understand God’s transcendence: it is his transcendence that makes him so mysterious to human minds. Even so, we can learn some things about God by taking a closer look at this attribute.

By saying that God is transcendent, we are saying that he rises above everything and everyone, not physically but in terms of quality. Because we tend to think in terms of physical dimensions, the Bible often expresses God’s transcendence by telling us that he is high and lofty or that he is exalted. Perhaps that’s why many of us can’t shake the notion that heaven is “up.” Like God, heaven is beyond the limits of our experience. It is part of the supernatural world that our natural minds cannot conceive.

Whenever God appears in the Bible, humans are filled with a sense of awe coupled with a profound understanding of their unworthiness. As never before, they see their unlikeness to God. So overwhelmed was the prophet Isaiah by the holy presence of God that he was certain he would die. Moses covered his face in fear when he encountered God in the form of a burning bush.

This sense of God’s transcendence is unfortunately rare in much of the church today. Because some of us have grown up in homes that instilled in us a cowering, unhealthy brand of fear, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that it is  difficult to speak of fear and God in the same sentence without being misunderstood. But without proper fear for our transcendent God, we will never know the full wonder of belonging to him. Instead, we will continue to underestimate him, letting unbelief erode our confidence in him. Tragically, if we don’t learn how to fear God, we will fear everything else. That’s why Proverbs 14:27 says that “Fear of the LORD is a life-giving fountain.”