Almost every time that an angel meets a human, the angel says the same thing: “Do not fear.” I assume there’s good reason for that, because almost every time an angel meets a human, the human is face down on the ground, trembling in terror.
Two truths are revealed by the angels’ greetings in scripture, and both truths must be kept in perspective.
Truth #1: God is awesome.
“Awesome” means awe-inspiring. That means awe-full. That means terrifying. He is bigger, stronger, smarter, brighter and better than you. Being in his perfect presence makes my imperfections and limitations so painfully obvious I cannot stand it. Moses was so changed by being in God’s presence that the Israelites begged him to talk to God on their behalf because they would die if exposed to his radiance (Exodus 20:18-21).
Truth #1 means that we are wise to fear him.
Yes, I know, perfect love casts out fear. But yes, we need to know that his presence is bright and full and terrifying in a way that we cannot stand to be in his presence. Scripture affirms this in Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (See also Deuteronomy 10:12)
Truth #2: We shouldn’t be afraid when the terrifying Lord of Heaven shows up, because he tells his people not to be afraid. (See Luke 1:30, Matthew 1:19-25, Luke 2:8-20 and others).
In summary, we need to be afraid. We need not to be afraid. Confused yet?
This is one of those beautiful and powerful paradoxes of scripture. “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24). We should never let our view of God become too tame or too small. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 NASB). If we forget that we are dealing with God, we risk minimizing him, disobeying him, and trivializing him. When Lewis imagined him in Narnia as Aslan, he was not “a tame lion.”
This fear should not be our only or overwhelming response. If fear is all we have, we don’t have a relationship with God who invites us to fear no more. We remember his mercy towards us. Paul said, “Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God” (Romans 11:22 NET).
Don’t neglect the fear or the kindness, rather, bow before the God who says do not fear!