“For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.” Job 31:23
Have you ever been afraid? I know I have. Fear is something that grips us when we are caught in something we don’t understand and presents itself as a threat, like Medicare part B, or overdue mortgage payments, or high gas prices. Our safety is threatened, our life is threatened, and we are powerless to do anything about it. Fear can paralyze us, its icy chill freezing our blood in its veins. But it also makes a powerful impression, and motivation for action. If I am afraid of losing my house, I will put in longer hours at work, or if I am scared of Medicare, I will pour more time into studying it.
Job’s words are interesting, if not ironic. Job says these words as he is sitting in an ash heap, covered in painful sores. Job has received the business end of destruction, with all of his children killed by a whirlwind (1:18, 19), his wife scorning him for being faithful to God (2:9), his property destroyed, raided, or carried off by invaders. If you or I were sitting there with Job, we might say, “hey, uh, Job? Do you think you’ve seen destruction yet?”
Job is confessing to his fear. He dreaded, or as some translations read, was terrified. Job felt real terror when he thought about the destruction that God could wreak upon him. Why? Because Job had a healthy understanding of who God is. God spoke the world and the universe into existence (Genesis 1) and upholds it still, that is, keeps it together, by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Scientists have yet to discover everything about the universe, but they have discovered one important thing. At the level of the sub-atomic, the atoms are held together by an unknown force, which they call a “strong force” which counteracts the “weak force” which threatens atoms’ flying apart. Scientists can’t explain how each force works, but they know that they do. Job knew what that force was: “the word of his power.” Job knew that in God’s word, power and strength, the very atoms he was composed of held together, the very atoms that composed all of his great wealth, his family, his possessions were held together by the Creator. Thus the great Creator could also wreak untold havoc upon him if He so chose. Jesus put it this way, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) There is a place for fear, a healthy fear of God, a terror perhaps, but a motivating fear. What did this fear motivate Job to do?
If you read the rest of Job 31, you find a man who has committed himself to a path of righteousness. He knows what the alternative is. He swears off lust (vs. 1), lies (5), dishonesty (6), adultery (9-10), injustice (13), closing his ears to the poor (16-20), greed (24-25), idolatry (26-27), gloating (29), cursing (30), inhospitableness (31-32), and overworking his soil (38-40). Job is sensitive to what God requires of him, and has been very careful to be obedient. This was motivated in part, by his fear.
Despite his innocence, Job realizes that the destruction has come upon him anyway. “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded had happened to me.” (3:25) But Job was not hopeless, for he knew that his integrity would ultimately triumph, despite his dark circumstances, for he says , “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” (19:25-26) Does this sound like a man in utter despair and hopelessness? It should, but it doesn’t. Though what he had feared had come to pass, he has found that destruction isn’t the worst thing that could happen to him. The worst thing is to have his soul cast into hell. He knows his Redeemer will not allow it, and one day he will see God in his flesh. Job learned that his fear wasn’t sufficient as a motivation to serve God. Fear alone will service a tyrant, fear without love will lead to rebellion. Thankfully the Bible doesn’t leave us in fear.
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15, 16) God’s children? This isn’t fear (though I will confess I’ve been afraid of my Dad on more than one occasion). This is love. If you are a Christian, you are not motivated so much by abject fear of what God would do to you, so much as what God has done for you through His Son Jesus Christ. God has expressed such love for us that He has sent His Son Jesus to die for us, cleanse us from our sins, and bring us into sonship with God. We are no longer strangers and aliens but children. What Job says in faith we repeat with full assurance, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” We have been bought back from sin and brought into God’s love as His children.
The invitation is to you, your household, and all who are afar off. Choose this day whether you will serve God in love, or be afraid of Him and of His judgment for the rest of your life. The invitation is open. Get to know your Father.