By Spencer D Gear PhD
‘Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Bertrand Russell).
Russell, in his lecture on ‘Why I am not a Christian (1927)’. stated:
Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly … the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion has (sic) gone hand-in-hand.
(image Bertrand Russell)
If Christianity is based on Russell’s kind of fear that leads to cruelty, it is a country mile from what the Scriptures declare. He’s the biblical evidence.
1. THE STATE OF THE TRUE BELIEVER (Ps. 112:1)
”Blessed are those who fear the LORD”. The truly godly person is one who fears the Lord. This is a radically different relationship than God being your daddy. your mate, or the one who causes cruelty. Some people have told me that when we pray to Abba Father, we are praying to one who is like a daddy or mate.
If you are ever going to be blessed, you must be one who fears the Lord. What does it mean to “fear the Lord.” This verse provides a window of understanding
1.1 Isaiah 8:13
“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (NIV).
When we fear people it is very different from the fear of God.
When we fear people, we fear their power to hurt us:
- hurt our reputation,
- damage our property,
- hurt those we love,
- hurt us physically if they are more powerful,
- we may fear the power of the government over us to tax us, punish us when we break the law, take away our freedom, etc.
On the human level, we may have sound reasons for a healthy fear of people and government
Jesus said to Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10).
Human beings are absolutely powerless against God. God can shatter any plans they have against you. God could strike them dead at any moment. How many people died in the 26 December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean? ‘The tsunami killed at least 225,000 people across a dozen countries, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, and Thailand sustaining massive damage (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Fear of human beings may cause us to do many things, even ungodly things.
The fear of human beings is condemned in Scripture. This is but one example, I Peter 3:13-16 (NIV): “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. `Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.’”
Returning to Isa. 8:13, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy.” In contrast to the fear of human beings, the fear of God, according to Isa. 8:13, is based on two convictions:
2. He is “the Lord Almighty.” We fear him because of his power.
Never forget this: Human beings can only injure you as far as temporal things are concerned. The most human beings can do to you is “kill your body.” God’s powers go beyond the grave.
As Jesus put it: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
We fear him because of his might.
2.1 Isa. 8:13 emphases
- We fear God because of His absolute holiness.
“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy.”
a. What does “holy” mean?
(based on Sproul 1992, chs. 16, 17)
We mostly think of the purity and righteousness of God, but that is not the primary meaning of holiness. It is more than a moral or ethical quality.
b. Holy has two distinct meanings:
(1) Its primary meaning is: “apartness” or “otherness.”
“Holy” comes from an old word that meant “to cut” or “to separate.” To put it into contemporary language, we could say He is “a cut above something.”
When we say that God is holy we are saying, by nature, there is a profound difference between God and all creatures. We understand . . .
(a) God’s transcendent majesty;
(b) His absolute superiority;
(c) Therefore, He is worthy of our:
- reverence or fear
He is completely “other.” He is different from us in his glory–radically different. R. C. Sproul put it succinctly:
“When the Bible calls God holy it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be `other,’ to be different in a special way” (Sproul 1985, pp. 54-55).
When the angels were calling to one another in Isa. 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory,” they were not saying primarily “pure, pure, pure is the Lord Almighty,” but “wholly other, transcendent One, absolutely superior, is the Lord Almighty.”
(2) The secondary meaning of holy relates to God’s pure and righteous actions.
God does what is correct. He never does what is wrong. He doesn’t have a sinful nature to tempt him to evil. God always acts in a righteous way because his nature is holy. We find that difficult to comprehend–somebody who is absolutely just and correct in everything he does. But that’s our God.
Thanks to God revealing himself through the Bible, we know and can say that:
- internally (by nature), God is righteous. Therefore,
- externally, his actions are righteous.
Because God is holy, He is both great and good. There is no evil mixed with His goodness.
Why then, according to Isa. 8:13 are we to “fear” or “dread” this Lord?
This is the God of the universe who reveals Himself through the Bible and through creation. The Scriptures tell us this about God: “How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2).
2.2 How do some human beings respond to God?
Politicians may legislate the killing of human beings through voluntary, active euthanasia, through abortion, but it is the Lord Most High who is King over all the earth. He is the one who judges individuals and nations. Australians may think they can thumb their noses at almighty God, but God’s law is absolute. We are finally accountable to this awesome God. The superior, transcendent One.
This is what John Lennon thought of God versus his prominence as one of the Fab Four, the Beatles:
John Lennon (1940-1980) did say in 1966, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock n’ roll or Christianity.” Fourteen years later, Lennon was shot dead by Mark David Chapman in New York City on December 8, 1980.
The American teen magazine “Datebook” reprinted the “We’re more popular than Jesus” interview which caused a stir of protests and a rash of Beatle record and memorabilia burnings on the streets in the US. Beatles manager, Brian Epstein released a statement saying that the words of John Lennon had been taken out of context and while in Chicago Lennon and the Beatles called a press conference and apologized to the world for his comment (Truth or Fiction 2015).
When the Israelites were driving out the Canaanites from the Promised Land, the Bible says:
- “Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God” (Deut. 7:21);
- Again in Deuteronomy: “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow. . . Fear the Lord your God and serve Him” (Deut. 10:17-20).
When Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead in judgment because they lied to God (they trampled on the holy), Acts 5:11 says, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”
3. What does it mean to fear God?
Caleb Rosado summarises it pointedly:
“It means … to quake or tremble in the presence of a Being so holy, so morally superior, so removed from evil, that in his presence, human boasting, human pride, human arrogance vanish as we bow in speechless humility, reverence, and adoration of the One beyond understanding” (Rosado 1994, p. 24).
Rosado, C 1994, “America the Brutal,” Christianity Today, August 15. Available at: http://www.rosado.net/articles-brutal.html (Accessed 18 March 2018).
Sproul, R. C. 1985, The Holiness of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Sproul, R. C. 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
[from my article, ‘Blessings through the fear of God’]
Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 May 2018.