Combining Terror and Awe


What does it mean to ‘fear the Lord?”  The English definition of the word ‘fear’ means ‘a painful emotion marked by alarm.” I think most of us, however, would include the concept of terror.  In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures use 7 different words that are translated as fear while the Greek New Testament uses three different words, and all of them describe ‘terror’ to various degrees.  However, one Hebrew word and one Greek word have the same combined meaning. These words have the combined meaning of ‘to be fearful or terrified’ and ‘to hold in awe or respect’! How can you be terrified and hold in reverential awe at the same time?

It is not difficult to imagine terror. Hebrews 10:31 tells us that it is ’… a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’  All we need to do is imagine God’s Holy hand ready to drop an unredeemed sinner into the chasm of hell (as Jonathon Edwards pictured in his sermon ‘Sinners in the hands of a holy God’)! Remembering this peril before our redemption should move us to awe that our Holy God has chosen and provided to us a rich forgiveness through the finished work of Christ. John the Apostle says this very thing:

NAU 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fear s is not perfected in love.

NIV 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fear s is not made perfect in love.

KJV 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

The work of the Son removes God’s wrath from sinners. It is the love of God that transforms ‘terror’ into ‘awe’. Unlike the non-Christian who can only be terrified of God, the Christian balances terror and awe by remembering the terror that once was his but now has been replaced with the awe of God by appreciating the work of the Son on the cross.


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