Fearing who we Love, Loving who we Fear

by Rob Tims

I don’t remember what I had done that upset my mother so much, but whatever it was, she confined me to my bedroom with these terrible last words that virtually every child has heard: “Wait until your father gets home.”

And wait I did.

But I did not wait idly, for I knew what I was waiting for: a few pops on my thin, bony butt with a thick leather belt, swung by a man with a 6-foot, 3-inch, 250-pound frame. In preparation, I pulled on as many tighty-whities as I could wear under two pair of blue jeans. Perhaps the layers of cotton would minimize the pain.

My father soon rushed in, belt off and ready for action. There was no discussion—no time to explain myself or delay the inevitable. I recoiled in fear, submitting easily to the multiple lashes across my hind-side (yes, the layers helped … I highly recommend this preventative measure). In anger and frustration, my father said something to the effect of, “Do not come out of your room until you’re ready to apologize for your behavior.”

I was scared. The spanking hurt. And for a while, I didn’t think I’d ever leave my room, no matter what Mom had cooked for dinner.

But I soon felt better. So much so, that I rather sheepishly stepped out of my room and into the den where my father sat in his chair reading the paper. When he realized I was there, he put the paper down, looked right at me, and motioned for me to come. My trot was impeded by the extra pair of pants, but I curled up into his lap quickly enough, enjoying his embrace … the head rub … the kiss on my forehead … the soft words.

The man I had most feared quickly become the man I most loved.

It’s a fascinating dynamic, isn’t it … the relationship between fear and love? It’s a concept discussed in many places in Scripture, but consider Deuteronomy10:12 for starters.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?”

Why must these things … fear and love … co-exist when it comes to our relationship with God? That is, what happens if we fear God without love, or love God without fear?

When we fear God without loving Him, our relationship with Him is based on pure, abject terror. We relate to Him like children constantly fearful of His impending discipline. All we know to do is manipulate things to somehow cushion the blow of His wrath or avoid it all together. He’s no one we want to be with … just someone we have to live with. When we love God without fearing Him, our relationship dissolves into sentimentalism. Obedience and affection become optional at best, and we only want to be with Him to the extent that it makes us “feel good,” whatever that happens to mean at the time.

Is it possible to love someone that we fear?

Is it possible to fear someone that we love?

The answer to both these questions with regard to the Lord is “Yes.”

Not only is it possible, it’s required.

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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