To Fear or Not to Fear?

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When Moses came down from the divine fire and smoke of Mount Sinai the first time to give Israel the Ten Commandments, the people shook in fear from the presence of God and the holiness of the commandments. He told them not to fear, yet at the same time, to fear.

What?! That sounds like a contradiction.

“Do not fear, because God has come to test you, in order that the fear of Him would be upon your faces, so that you would not sin.” (Exodus 20:20)

To resolve this apparent contradiction is not that difficult. We are not to fear God as if He would hurt us for no reason, or as if He does not have perfectly beneficial desires for us. Yet at the same time, we need to know that He does indeed punish sin; and the healthy fear of the punishment of sin is one of the motivations not to sin.

The Torah was the first stage of bringing us to recognize that we all have sinned, that we need to repent, and that we need to find atonement and forgiveness. In this way, the knowledge of perfect moral law brings us to the need for salvation. That forgiveness and atonement we find in Yeshua’s sacrifice on the cross. Thus, the Torah of Moses leads us to the cross of Yeshua. The Torah explains the law; the cross provides forgiveness for our transgressions of the law.

The double issue of “fear and fear not” is explained more fully by Yeshua in Luke 12, in which He says, “fear not, yet I tell you whom to fear…”

Let’s look at this dynamic a little deeper. The Bible often repeats the encouragement not to fear. God is all powerful; beneficent; and for you. His grace gives us confidence. His promises to protect us provide a foundation for our overcoming FAITH.

The Bible also often repeats the charge to maintain the fear of YHVH. That fear is pure and eternal (Psalm 19:10). We can base our dedication to HOLINESS on these exhortations to fear the Lord.

Obviously, God wants us to have both faith and holiness. Faith without holiness degenerates to worldliness and carnality. Holiness without faith degenerates to religious coercion. Faith and holiness together transform us into the image of Yeshua. These two streams of thought are interwoven throughout the Scriptures. We are to consider both the mercy of God and His severity (Romans 11:22). There are promises and warnings. We are to shine as glorious lights, yet to know that darkness is covering the earth (Isaiah 60:1-2).

Scripture often deals with different sides of the same issue. Truth seems to be paradoxical because God is both holy and gracious. It is hard for us as human beings to deal with complex or paradoxical truths. Yeshua is the living incarnation of truth; and He is both gracious and holy.

The love of God grants us free will; that in itself creates a paradoxical situation. He is sovereign, yet we have to choose. The dual dynamic of truth is found in the interfacing of grace and holiness. The tension between the two is seen repeatedly in Scriptures.

There are many questions with tension. Do we pay taxes to Caesar? Do we stone a woman caught in adultery? How can an infinite God dwell fully in bodily form in a human being? Is the kingdom of God in heaven or on earth? Are we left wing or right wing politically? Are we for medical vaccinations or against? Do the righteous suffer? What is the nature of grace and works? We are saved “not by works” (Ephesians 2:9) yet “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

There is a dual dynamic of truth. Yeshua displays the perfect integration of the God-Man paradox.

We follow Him as a person. The principles of God’s Word contain different aspects of applying God’s truth.

We are called into a real relationship with God. Relationship deals with the wonder of a person having different aspects to his personality. Our faith is not a one dimensional doctrine but a dynamic relationship with a living God who interacts with us.

Our faith seems to have paradoxes because God is a real person, not a robot. THE Truth is a living person, not a list of formulas or a fact sheet. To walk with God, we have to deal with a multifaceted relationship with a real Being.

This article originally appeared on Revive Israel – Tikkun Global, March 2, 2022, and reposted with permission.