Are fear and forgiveness opposing concepts? Forgiveness includes acceptance, freedom, love, and understanding. These things have little to do with fear. Fear involves dread, terror, and rejection; so how can fear and forgiveness be connected? There is another meaning associated with fear that is important to remember. The American Heritage Dictionary’s third listing for fear is this: “Extreme reverence or awe, as toward a supreme power.”
The third sense of the word is one of being overwhelmed by greatness. This definition only begins to address the fear of God in Scripture. In the Bible, God is described as so good and so great and so powerful that fear of Him is an automatic response. Isaiah experiences this kind of fear when he encounters the living God. This is recorded for us in chapter 6:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
Isaiah is not just overwhelmed, he is undone! The character and holiness of God is more than he can endure. This kind of fear is our response to something totally beyond us. Isaiah is directly encountering the Living God. He is overcome, blown away at the majestic holiness and wonder of God. This helps us to understand what it means to fear God and why that fear is a good thing.
What God does should produce awe and fear on this scale. There is no one else who is like him. This reality is certainly true when we consider that God forgives sins. The psalmist is gripped by this when he speaks of fear and forgiveness in Psalm 130:1-4:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
The forgiveness of sins is something so wonderful and so full of awe that we, when we comprehend it, can only look in fear and wonder at the God who forgives. Forgiveness is not just a pass to keep us from being in trouble. Forgiveness means that my sins have been covered and I can have a relationship with God. This is truly awesome. It is an event that should bring us to a holy fear of a holy God.
This is the truth about forgiveness and fear that you want your children to grasp. We can only forgive because of what Christ has done for us. Apart from God granting forgiveness, man would have no comprehension of what it means to forgive. Instead, we would only know revenge and restitution. It would never occur to us to forgive someone if God had not done it first in Christ.
Parent, are you blown away in a godly, wonderful, and yes, terrifying fear because your sins are forgiven? If you aren’t, don’t expect your children to be either. Model the healthy fear of God in response to his forgiveness of your sins. Lead your children to the Cross and the wonder of Christ, who forgives our sins. He is worthy to be feared because he forgives!