It’s something I’ll never forget. The only time I have ever seen my step-dad actually angry. Like raised his voice, and most likely his blood pressure angry. Like stopped me dead in my tracks and made me reconsider all of my life’s goals and dreams angry. Like, I’ve known the man going on 31 years and it’s never going to happen again I am sure, angry. And let’s just say it wasn’t caused by something you’d expect.
My brother and I love football. Always have, and undoubtedly, always will. From the youngest of ages, we have played football together. I, being the older and more responsible and intellectual of the two, play quarterback – he, being the younger, faster and more athletic of us, played wide receiver. It’s a tune that has secured us THREE Hudson, WI YMCA Christian Men’s League championships (I know, pretty awesome, right?), and appearances in championship games in multiple leagues throughout the twin cities. We’re kind of a big deal, is what I’m trying to say. And it all stems, I am sure, from the chemistry formed by the two of us playing for endless hours in the basement of our home, and in our backyard since we were 7 and 4.
That day, we were playing in the basement, due to harsh weather conditions, and we had the tunes blaring on our dual cassette player/recorder. I was probably around 12 or 13, and had recorded some songs off the radio (secular radio even), that were “all the rage” back then, and probably wound up on jock jams in the not too distant future. My step-dad was engaged in his usual Saturday routine of helping to clean the house (husband points), when he came downstairs and heard the music – and well – he went off. “Do you know what this song is about?!?! Have you been listening to this garbage all morning??! Is this the kind of thing that represents who you want to be as a person?!?” It lasted all of a minute or two, and he didn’t even turn it off. He simply asked pointed questions in a raised and aggressive tone, and went back to his work. But the affects might be everlasting.
The song was of course, “Whoomp there it is,” by the world renowned artist, Tag Team (haven’t heard of them? No surprises there). The lyrics of which, as I look at them now, are TAME by today’s standards, but not in any way something I would want to explain to my middle school youth group students, much less my own children who are much younger. Let’s just say it describes, in some detail, and with minor vulgarity, the actions between a man and a woman who should be united in the covenantal bonds of holy matrimony. Most definitely not for the faint of heart, or the ears of a 9 or 10 year old, like my brother would have been. While my motives may have been to “pump, us up” – the reality was we shouldn’t have been listening to it, or anything like it.
That day and its events changed me, and revealed to me a reality about God that I didn’t put together until much later – but still it served as a great tool for understanding one of the tricky truths about being a good follower of Christ.
The New Testament as a whole, and especially Jesus himself, describes God as a Heavenly Father who desires to be in a honest, authentic, and meaningful two way relationship with His children. Jesus’ own brother James puts it very plainly when he says “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” We’re encouraged to talk to Him (prayer), trust him, and share our deepest feelings and struggles with Him. Some places even call us to COMPLETELY place our life in His hands. All of which makes sense and sounds good, until you contrast it with a common theme of the Old Testament, which talks about and even asks us to FEAR God.
Solomon writes in Proverbs:
Proverbs 14:27 ESV
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death.
And the psalmist writes:
Psalm 2:11 ESV
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Psalm 111:10 ESV
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!
In all, there are well over 100 references to “the fear of the Lord” in the Bible – spanning both the Old and New Testament. So we can be sure it’s not s misprint or misspoken command, but it might be a little misunderstood. I mean, this all seems a little contradictory doesn’t it? On one hand we’re supposed to devote the entirety of our lives to Him, and on the other, we’re supposed to be afraid of Him? Seems a bit odd, right?
Famous theologian and pastor Martin Luther once made a distinction when it comes to the “fear of the Lord.” He said that there are two types of fear; servile, and filial. He said “The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person.” Even thinking about that scenario gives me a little anxiety. Author and teacher R.C. Sproul says “Luther distinguished between that and what he called filial fear, drawing from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father.”
Now just for a second, let’s go back to my angry step-dad that fine Saturday morning, with bass thumping and blood pumping. After his “explosion” at me, I realized something it would take me a while to name, but I something I felt nonetheless. I was AFRAID of letting him down. I had seen the way he lived his life, the character he had, and the type of man he was, and I admired him. I wanted to become like him. And the thought of disappointing him, brought me fear. He had my respect, and I didn’t want to lose his approval, not because of what he would DO to me, but because of what he would THINK of me. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting him down.
I think this is what scripture is MAINLY calling us to in our relationship with our Creator. Do SOME verses imply that we should fear God because of what He COULD do to us, yes, absolutely. But those verses are outdone in number and in idea, by those that refer to God’s undying and undeniable love for us, and the grace He has offered us all, time and time again. More likely then, I think when the writers of these books call us to “fear God,” they are asking us desire to live the kind of life that would demonstrate our awe and respect for God, and our fear of letting down the One we should spend our existence trying to please. That it how the “fear of the Lord” brings life and wisdom – when it pushes us to do the right thing, even when wrong might seem more appealing.
Football is fun, but you have to play by the rules for fear that the referee might cost you a chance at winning. Songs with a good beat and catchy lyrics are also enjoyable – but much less so when they take your mind and heart places it should not go and the results spill into your life. In 31 years, I’ve never seen my step-dad as mad as he was that day, and I hope not to ever again. But I’m thankful I did get to see it that one time. I guess you could say he “put the fear of the Lord in me” – hopefully for good.