If one does not believe that God exists, then naturally there is no “fear of God”. With no “fear of God” there is no true wisdom according to the writer of the Book of Proverbs. Lacking wisdom, the atheist flips God off, and lives as if He doesn’t exist.
The Book of Proverbs talks a lot about getting wisdom. Wisdom means seeing everything in the light of God. It’s a healthy respect for God and His Word and His Ways. If you flaunt them, the consequences are very, very real. The fear of God also would include a relational aspect. One is drawn into the mystery of God, to know Him and obey Him.
In the book of Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is mentioned nearly 20 times. It’s the motto for the whole book. God has self-disclosed, that is, He has revealed some things about Himself – what He loves, what He hates, who He loves to bless, and how He likes to see us live our lives. Wisdom is loving what God loves, hating what God hates, and actually living like God has asked us to live. God is bigger than me; He’s more powerful than me and I ought to listen to Him. You step back in awe when you fear God. That is one aspect of the fear of the Lord. In other words, don’t be ripping life from the womb. Don’t be trampling on sacred marital ground. Don’t be redefining the family. Be careful when you assert that God does not exist. There is even a contingency within liberal Christianity that rejects all the central doctrines of the faith. A God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a Cross. Pure heresy. Be careful.
But the fear of the Lord doesn’t stop with just stepping back in awe. The fear of the Lord also includes drawing close in relationship. God is not temperamental. You can trust Him and He wants you to be close to Him. Jesus makes this very clear. God is awesome and wants to catch you up in sacred romance. God is beautiful and warm. He is mysterious. He can make your life complete and worth living. You will be fulfilled in ways you never were before when you decide to come to him. So, to fear God is too stand in awe of him, but it is also and desire to know Him and be close to Him, even though He is totally Other than us.
Look at what the Proverb writer has written:
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. The assumption is that many people will not fear God. They’ll flip God off.
Proverbs 1:28-31 28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. 29 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, 30 since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. So many live any way they want and when that way of life all but destroys them, they finally cry out to God, “I’m ready to listen to you now God.” But this cry comes too late. The damage is done. Sin will take you further than you want to go, cost you more than you want to pay, and keep you longer than you want to stay.
Proverbs 2:1-5 1 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. This is not something we do a few times; wisdom is the pursuit of a lifetime.
Proverbs 8:13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Someone who is proud, arrogant, characterized by evil behavior and speech have no fear of God.
Proverbs 9:10 10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Proverbs 10:27 27 The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short. This is not a promise; it’s a probability. The genre of proverb simply states probabilities, not promises.
Proverbs 14:26 26 He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. If you have good godly parents, your family will reap the benefits of it.
Proverbs 15:16 16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.
Proverbs 15:33 33 The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 16:6 6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.
Proverbs 19:23 23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Again, a probability. You live for God and you will eliminate a lot of trouble because you’ve stayed out of trouble.
Proverbs 22:4 4 Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life. This is a probability.
Proverbs 23:17 17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. You’ve got to live with the long view in mind.
The fear of God is not the terror that sends us running in horror, and on the other hand, it is not simply a quiet respect. The fear of God is living with an acknowledgement that we live in relationship to the God who created us, who even created the universe. It is the sobering reality that teaches us that God is vastly superior to us and must be placed first in our lives. We could say then that wisdom is full of awe for God.
A fully educated mind not in awe of Him may know all sorts of things, but they will not be truly wise and have the skill they need in life. The fear of God is not so much fear, but awe and total respect. Awe and reverence is the experience of being overwhelmed, of confronting someone or something much more powerful than ourselves. Where fear makes us want to run away, awe makes us want to draw closer to the mystery, even though we hesitate to get too close. Instead of resenting our own smallness or weakness, we stand in appreciation of something greater than ourselves. And we want to linger and even more important, obey Him (Parrott, Relationships). To fear God is to put Him first, above all things and to obey Him in simple trust. To fear God is to know that a moment of existence without Him is hell.
Donald Miller said, “I realize it isn’t a big deal to fear God these days, but I do. By that I don’t mean I have just a deep respect for Him or a healthy appreciation for Him; I actually get a general sense of terror. It isn’t because I think He is a bad guy, because I don’t. The sense of terror comes more from the idea that He is so incredibly other… (Searching…37).” It takes metaphor and analogy to try to describe God. Eyes of fire. Voice like rushing wind. He speaks a word and nature jumps. Angelic beings fall to their faces in His presence. The most powerful telescope cannot reach the end of the cosmos that He created. There is a God and He’s very big and He understands everything. He made all this and He understands it’s physics. He is so incredibly other.
You see the Biblical God is dangerous, but He’s good. He shakes me from my complacency. He is about holding you accountable, making you whole and holy, confronting your sin, knocking you down, standing you back up again, calling your name, and winning your heart so that you will align with His broad purposes for our world.
“Course He isn’t safe” says the Beavers in Narnia. But it’s the only God that would be worth believing in, living for, and dying for. God doesn’t tap the window pain with his cane and says to those who flaunt His ways: “Go away. Shoo! You’re getting close to the edge” and sometimes they back away from the edge and sometimes they don’t. That kind of a god is of little help in a world that is cruel and evil and where bad things happen to those who don’t deserve it – where wives are stolen, people we love are murdered, our most prized possessions destroyed, our true God is belittled, our loved ones die in accidents and families are falling apart.
You and I need Somebody who can do more than just “Shoo” away his enemies and principalities and powers of darkness, and merely have them come back once His attention is turned in another direction. I need Someone who has the power to ultimately and finally deal with evil, and hurt and misfortunate and heartache and genocide and abortion and infanticide and atheistic regimes and forsaken and abandoned families. “Course God isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you” says Beaver in the Chronicles of Narnia. So we can obey and trust him without fear, even when He asks us to do some really hard things, unsafe things, like forgiving someone who had done evil and harm toward us.
What does it mean to fear God? To fear God is to stand in awe of Him, to be drawn into the mystery of Him, and to pursue relationship with Him with a desire to obey Him fully. To do all of these things is to be declared truly “wise”. It means to be anxious and eager to meet Him. It means to build our lives around the call of being His Bride, to anticipate the pleasure of obedience. To fear God is to be lost in His presence and to orient all of life with God at the center.
Atheist, stop flipping God off. Instead, fear Him and you can be truly wise. Stop living your life as if God does not exist. He does exist and you don’t want to mess with Him.
Steve Farrar in one of his books was talking about the fear of God. He said a few years ago his then 14 year old son was telling him about his friend that had gotten into big trouble. As Steve and his son discussed it, Steve’s son said,
“You know what the real problem is Dad?”
“No,” Steve replied. “What is it?”
“When you get right down to it, he has no fear of his father. He knows that his dad doesn’t mean what he says. His dad has never followed through and disciplined him. That’s the real reason he’s in trouble.”
God exists. He means what He says. Don’t flip Him off. Stop droping His name like an ace card (even though you don’t believe in Him ironically enough) and stop making these ridiculous claims like “God doesn’t exist.” Read the proverbs I’ve quoted above to see what eventually happens in the lives of those who flip God off.