A few years ago, substandard construction was found to have triggered a deadly building collapse in Bangladesh. It housed four factories, some shops and a bank. Over one hundred and fifty people died, more than a thousand were injured, countless survivors were trapped, buried beneath the rubble. In looking for the cause of this catastrophe, officials found that something essential to the basic strength and durability of buildings had been neglected. There were an inadequate number of steel reinforcement bars placed in the concrete to give the building the necessary strength to bear its weight. They even discovered places in the structure where the bars were missing altogether, severely weakening the structure, making a collapse almost certain.
Similarly there’s something essential missing from the lives of many Christians today affecting a lack of inner strength and fortitude that, like the building in Bangladesh, puts them at risk of crumbling when the weight of adversity becomes too much to bear.
Life offers plenty of trouble for free, without reason or explanation. The In the Bible there’s a helpful story of a man who, though pushed beyond his limits for no good reason, was nevertheless able to stand up under the most unfair, soul-crushing suffering and hardship life could throw at him.
Job cries out to God for an explanation but gets none. The big lesson seems to be that God doesn’t want us to have all the answers. Neither does he want us to reason with him. When the pressure is on what God wants from us is not complicated – he’s looking for our trust. He wants us to hold on to our relationship with him and not give up on him. This takes true grit and fortitude.
Where does this kind of faith and trust come from? Well it comes from a surprising source: the fear of God! The fear of God is misunderstood and missing from most conversations about God these days because of the word “fear”. It doesn’t square with his love, so we do our best down-play it, using replacement words like “respect”, “reverence”, “honor”, in order to make it more agreeable to our sensibilities. But the Hebrew word translated “fear” actually means fear!
However, despite the feelings the word fear engenders, the Bible has good things to say about thefear of the Lord
Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress… (Proverbs 14:26, NIV)
The fear of God is like the inner reinforcement bars in the concrete of our souls that hold us up under the heavy load of adversity, producing gritty trust that clings to God tighter and tighter the more difficult life becomes.
How does this work? Well, the very nature of God is both loving and dangerous because of his inherent “all-powerful-ness”. Dallas Willard once wrote that God is not mean, but he is dangerous.
The Almighty is wonderful but when we carelessly omit, ignore or misjudge him, the consequences can be terrible. This reminds me of a line from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When asked if Aslan the lion (a type of Christ) was dangerous, Mr. Beaver replies:
“Safe?… who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
With little or no fear of God I’m in danger of becoming arrogant, presumptuous and reckless. You see, there’s a difference between unhealthy and healthy fear. One is paralyzing and destructive and the other helpful and empowering. For example, it’s very healthy for a firefighter to fear fire when going into a burning building. Just as it’s very healthy to fear drinking before you drive.
Strangely, as in the case of Job, one of the main ways the fear of God is developed in our lives is through hardship and pain. It opens our eyes and strips away pretense. The fear of God shatters our illusions of self-sufficiency. It exposes the folly of questioning his wisdom and goodness. It does away with our misguided belief that we’re entitled to his blessings. It obliges us to acknowledge God as God. Compellingus to let go of the reins and place ourselves entirely in his hands, letting him be God, loving God “for nothing”– no strings attached – which places the steel in our souls and produces that gritty trust where, like Job, we too can say:
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him… (Job 13:15)
The fear of God was the secret of Job’s resilient faith and it can be ours too. The fear of God is indispensable to having an unshakable relationship with him in a world where things are always going wrong, often for no good reason. It will keep your faith from collapsing when the pressure of adversity becomes almost too much to bear.
Turns out that the fear of God is a very good thing, a blessing, a cause for worship! Who would have thought?
You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (Psalm 22:23)… (Psalm 111:10)… Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:9)