For the most part, we understand and have experienced the fear of man. It’s when the desire to gain another’s approval (or on the flip-side, the fear of their rejection) becomes so strong that we’ll say and do things that contradict the truth. We all have a natural desire to be enjoyed and appreciated by others, but the fear part means it has become a powerful and controlling force in your life. This is why the writer of Proverbs calls the fear of man an animal trap, because it keeps us from moving freely through life.
But what about the fear of God? That’s not so clear to us, even though it’s a concept all throughout the Bible. In fact, we often balk at this idea. It seems to go against God’s character as loving and faithful to his people. Why would we need to fear God?
R.C. Sproul describes the fear of God as “awe mixed with intimacy.” The awe comes from appreciating the power of God. It’s being amazed at God’s transcendence—that He’s nothing like us. He’s not our “buddy” or “homeboy” in that sense. He speaks the whole world into existence with a word. He has power over life and death. So, unlike the fear of man, the fear of God is about a reasonable and healthy respect for God’s power.
Also unlike the fear of man, there’s still an intimacy. We recognize that we’re living before an all-seeing God, who knows what’s in our heart, who knows every detail about our lives. So, we can’t hide from Him. And though that thought is alarming at first, it gives way to peace and rest, because we don’t have to perform for Him. This means we can stop trying to be farther along spiritually than we really are. We’ve already found rest in a Person who has real power, so we don’t have to come under the power of others.