What Is the Fear of the Lord? John Bunyan’s 3-Point Answer

What comes to mind when you hear the word fear? A horror film? Crashing in an airplane? Losing a child?

Those are certainly things that cross my mind. Theodore Roethke’s poem  also comes to  mind:

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

It’s that low-grade tension that violence could erupt at any moment. That is fear. But is that the kind of fear we are to have toward God?

John Bunyan Explains Fear of the Lord

On more than one occasion the Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Well, we all want wisdom, right? So it makes sense that we should probably know what that word fear means, don’t you think?

In his book The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan answers this question. It occurs during a dialog between two characters: Faithful and Christian.

Faithful asks “How will you describe right fear?” Christian answers, “True, or right fear, is discovered by three things.”

He then lists them.

1. Fear Rises at the Conviction of Sin

Christian says, “It is caused by saving convictions of sin.” Unbelievers do not fear God. They mock him. Nor do they fear sin or the consequences of sin. But the moment you recognize sin as an abomination–and understand the consequences–you get a surge of fear.

2. Fear Drives You to the Cross of Christ

That emergence of fear sets you on a quest to find a remedy. If that conviction of sin is backed by the Holy Spirit, then you will eventually find your way to Jesus.

3. Fear Grows into a Reverence for All Things God

That fear then flourishes into a mighty respect for the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  It blooms into a healthy regard for his Word. Blossoms into a fierce desire to obey and follow His ways. And it grieves at anything that may dishonour God, break peace with Jesus, blaspheme the Spirit or cause the enemy to speak harshly.

Your Turn

In our culture the fear of the Lord doesn’t get a lot of work. It just rubs us the wrong way because God is our papa, co-pilot and friend.

What’s there to fear?

On the other hand, some people have grown up in homes with fathers like the one Roethke described in his poem.  Fearing God just takes you back to some dark places you’d rather not go.

But God is not embodied in either of those examples. In fact, those examples reveal more about us than it does God. Yet, wrong thoughts about God lead to all sorts of problems. Even dangerous ones. So it is essential we get this right.

What about you: do you struggle with the fear of the Lord? Do you think Bunyan got it right? Is there something you would add? Take away? Should we fear the Lord?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Brutal and all.

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