“The fear of the Lord” is a funny phrase. To those outside the church, or to young Christians, “fear” is an exclusively negative word and this phrase seems out of step with a God who is love. Conversely, those who have been Christians for many years often dismiss any concerns or deeper reflection about this phrase—they assert “fear” should just be replaced with “respect” or “reverence” before moving on.
Enter Michael Reeves’ book Rejoice and Tremble. Here we have an extended, refreshing look at the fear of the Lord as it is used in the Bible and understood by several influential Christian thinkers through the centuries. (I thank Crossway for providing me with a review copy of this book.)
Before continuing, I should note that I was predisposed to like this book because of its author. Michael Reeves wrote Delighting in the Trinity which is one of my favorite short volumes of theology.
Reeves contrasts sinful fear of the Lord with its godly counterpart. Sinful fear drives us away from God because of our sin. This fear sees no kindness in God, only judgment, and therefore fleas. In contrast, a proper fear of the Lord drives us in the opposite direction—toward God. This fear knows God’s mercy in addition to his holiness.
The fourth chapter of Rejoice and Tremble is the one which has most shaped my current understanding of the fear of the Lord. Here Reeves writes about the fear of God the Creator and the fear of God the Redeemer in Christ. Both unbelievers and believers fear God the Creator, but this fear by itself only produces dread. Believers fear God the Redeemer, and when added to the fear of God the Creator, this instead produces pleasure.
Chapter 5 of Rejoice and Tremble is also worthy of further thought and meditation. Reeves connects the fear of the Lord to the way Jesus reveals God to be Father. God’s children dread sin, treasure their Father, and loathe all that is ungodly.
As ever, Reeves writes with clarity and warmth. This particular volume feels more academic than his book on the Trinity, perhaps suffering from an overabundance of quotations. Some chapters felt a bit indirect and repetitive because of this weakness.
If I’m understanding correctly, this book forms half of the first pair in the Union series put out by Crossway. The idea is that a “full” book is released at the same time as a “concise” version, both written by the same author. Church leaders might benefit from the longer version, while the shorter volumes might be a better fit for lay people. I like this idea a lot.
I enjoyed reading Rejoice and Tremble and I commend it to anyone who would like to learn more about fearing the Lord.
Disclosure: The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.