How we've lost our fear of God

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Psalm 111:10

I remember when it was culturally disrespectful and impolite to call grown-ups by their first names. It was flippant, an offensive disregard for the deference that was their due. Now, everyone from pastors to professors to married mothers prefer being called by their first name--even by kids.

And if there's one indicator of just how far we've devolved culturally, it has to be the near ubiquity of the F-word as a casual adjective in everyday speech. (As an aside: while I realize foul language is culturally and regionally subjective, I'm still surprised when I hear Christians using the F-word in everyday speech or on their blogs).

My guess is that our disrespectful behavior is just a smaller reflection of our culture as a whole. We've lost our proper sense of reverence.

I don't think this is all bad, entirely. Some formalities are stultifying. Certain traditions do act as negative barriers to better relationship. But I do think we've gone too far. Disrespect is now the status quo, not the rare exception.

Has the American church been impacted by our culture's disregard for proper reverence? I think so.

This week I want to examine the ways in which losing our fear of God has affected how we relate to God and each other, how we speak, how we worship and even which long-established doctrines we're willing to disregard; ie. the current trend of questioning the existence of Hell is, I think, a direct result of a lacking fear of God.

In abandoning proper fear, we've lost something essential to our faith.

I grew up with an unnecessarily harsh, overbearing sense of God. However, I will say that even this misapplied fear still kept me on the straight and narrow path. I can't tell you how many times I didn't do the wrong thing simply because I was afraid of the eternal consequences.

I've often struggled with how to redefine fear of God. When I read this description in the second day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit, something clicked for me:

The gift of Fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread nothing so much as to offend Him by sin. It is a fear that arises, not from the thought of hell, but from sentiments of reverence and filial submission to our heavenly Father. It is the fear that is the beginning of wisdom, detaching us from worldly pleasures that could in any way separate us from God.

Ah, to dread that which offends God! There it is! I willingly and actively go out of my way not to offend my neighbor or friend. The dread of offense hangs heavy on me and when I've sinned against someone, I can hardly bear to live without their forgiveness.

Do I take the same great pains to avoid offending God?

When I talk with non-believers, I often hear them describe their belief system as being constrained to "not hurting themselves or others." Sometimes I think believers limit their Christianity in the same way insofar as we take great pains not to hurt or offend others, but are insensitive to slighting God. By not taking our sin seriously we trample upon the sacrifice of Christ.

Proper fear, then, is a gift which enables us to see ourselves in right relation to God, to ourselves and to others. The gift of fear impels us to cultivate an attitude of humility--that preeminent virtue through which we come know God.

Do you think there's a loss of the fear of God in our churches, culture, relationships? How has this happened? And why? What are your observations?