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The Fear of God

The Fear of God

And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:5

Abject terror. That’s what I experienced nine years ago when I got a text from my boss, telling me I needed to come in to discuss some prescribing irregularities. I’d been diverting opioids for my own use for the previous few months, and that text told me that I’d been discovered. My life was about to be dismantled and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was on the side of wrong and I was about to pay a terrible price. I’d felt some fear months before when I relapsed. God told me not to put those pills in my mouth and I initially feared him when I did. But then nothing bad happened. I got away with it. So, my fear melted away. I grew confident in being on the side of wrong. But then, on that judgment day, the fear of God overwhelmed me as I realized I was about to pay the price for defying him.

This fear of God is described in today’s passage. In the story, Jacob and his family worried for their safety in the new land of Canaan. Anxious that they’d be attacked, they turned to God, demonstrating their devotion to him by burying their foreign gods and idols. In return, God protected them. The Israelites chose the side of God and, as they traveled, any who might attack them experienced supernatural fear. Those around them could see the Israelites were on the side of God, and they appropriately feared the consequences of choosing opposition to God.

I once erroneously believed that, because I was forgiven by God, that I wouldn’t face painful consequences here on Earth for my self-destructive choices. Forgiveness though, doesn’t mean that God has cut the strings between action and consequence here and now. If I rob a bank today, I’m going to jail tomorrow – even if I’m a Christian. If I live for my own will, in defiance of God’s will, then I’m correct to live in fear of him. Perhaps the worst position to be, is where I become comfortable and confident in my defiance of God. My judgment day will come and if I choose to live in opposition to God’s will, I will one day experience terrible fear of him. Thankfully, the opposite is true as well. If I daily make a genuine effort to follow him, I can rest confidently in his love. This doesn’t mean I’ll never experience trials. It means that I may find life, joy, and peace, despite those trials, knowing that I’m on God’s side.

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