Halloween is almost upon us. Christians have many varied reactions to this event. Some are appalled that a pagan ritual has been made mainstream and is now the second biggest money-making holiday in America. Others want to “Christianize” the season by focusing on the Christian roots of “All Saints’ Day” on November 1st. Many don’t want to celebrate the scary parts of the holiday, but instead reinvent it as a harvest celebration. Most do agree that to the majority of Americans, the day is not seen as a celebration of evil, but a harmless excuse to get candy from the neighbors. And to get scared. Americans love to get scared. Just check your TV listings and see how many horror movies are being shown this time of year.
The purpose of this article is not to argue in favor of any of the above positions, but rather to get us to think about fear. But the fear I want us to meditate on is not the fear of ghosts and goblins, but “the fear of the Lord.” This fear, the Scriptures teach, is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10), and the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). Most of us like the idea of growing in wisdom and knowledge – we pay thousands of dollars to colleges and universities to help us in that quest.
In English, “fear” is the opposite of trust, and its synonyms are “fright” and “dread.” The Old Testament Hebrew word for fear is “yirah,” and is sometimes seen as being negative (like fright and dread), or positive (respect, reverence and worship). It has a very broad range of meaning.
For example, in Leviticus 19:3 God commands us to “fear” our father and mother. Other translations translate it as “respect,” which seems to get at the true meaning. In Genesis 32, Jacob genuinely is terrified at meeting Esau, knowing that earlier that Esau wanted to kill him as Jacob cheated him out of his birthright. How do we know which way to take this word?
In terms of how we view God, yirah can be positive, as in Psalm 66:3, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth! … Say to God, ‘How awesome (yirah) are your deeds!” It can also describe a terror at one day standing before a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and the One who will judge us all. What makes the difference in how we view God? What makes us cower in terror or bow in reverence before our Almighty God?
The simple answer is relationship. What is your relationship to a God who is so holy His very presence shakes mountains? An example might help. Remember back to when you were a child. Picture yourself leaving school and beginning your walk home. As you turn onto a lonely street, you see a muscular boy, twice your size, approaching you. What is your response? If he is the school wrestling champion and you just stole his lunch money, you might feel some dread and terror. If he is your brother, and has come to walk you home through a scary part of town, you feel peace and security and an awe of his strength. The key is relationship, which is also true concerning God. Meeting the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and the One who will judge us all will bring terror to the person who is still in their sins and has not been adopted into the family of God. But being with this same God brings great joy to the heart of the person who can call God, “Father.” What is your relationship to Him?