Is It Okay to Think God's Scary?

Note: I asked the readers of this blog to finish this sentence: "Is it okay to . . . ?" One reader responded this way, "Is it okay to ask God questions or confess to Him that sometimes He is kinda scary?" The very short answer to whether or not it's okay to ask God questions is "yes!" I'll dig into questioning and doubting God deeper in a future post. But what about this scary business? Is it okay to see the God who loves us, who formed us, and who desires a relationship with us as scary? Let's open His Word and find out!

Scarier Than a Hollywood Horror Film

Imagine a movie where an entire civilization is wiped out by fiery rocks falling from heaven. How about a disembodied hand writing death threats on the wall? What about a lake of fire where a great beast is thrown for eternal torture? Nope, these aren't the plots of this year's Halloween movies. This stuff is ripped straight from the pages of the Bible. Here are some of the scary things that God does in the Bible.

  • Drowns an entire army (Ex. 14)
  • Talks from a burning bush (Ex. 3)
  • Incinerates entire cities filled with men, women, and children (Gen. 19)
  • Sends plagues like blood turned into water, frogs, gnats, flies, sick livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn (Ex. 7–12)
  • Predicts a king's death by writing on the wall with a floating hand (Dan. 5)
  • Floods the entire earth, killing everyone except Noah and his family (Gen. 6–8)
  • Sends lions to gobble up a group of people that did not fear Him (2 Kings 17:25)
  • Prepares a lake of fire where His enemies will be tortured forever (Rev. 19:20)

No gory special effects needed! This stuff is scary. I know what you might be thinking . . . That's mostly Old Testament stuff. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that God took a massive chill pill somewhere between the Old and New Testaments. We reason that He must have gone to anger management to become a tamer version of Himself. But . . . "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8) and He says, "For I the Lord do not change" (Mal. 3:6). And if you think those images of God in the past are intense, check out this glimpse into the future . . .

"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of Lord" (Rev. 19:11–16).

Gulp! When we get the whole picture of God, there's no denying He is scary.

He Wants Us to Fear Him

The truth is, God actually wants us to fear Him. Here's a snapshot of some verses that back that up.

"It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear" (Deut. 6:13). "For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised and he is to be feared above all gods" (1 Chron. 16:25). "For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth" Ps. 47:2).

Fear of the Lord doesn't work like a haunted house. He's not waiting to jump out at us to scare us for fear's sake. God is calling for a version of fear that is more like deep respect than sheer terror. When we recognize that God is perfect and committed to imposing justice on those who violate His holy standards, fear is a right response.

A Beautiful Tension

Fearing God is an important part of our relationship with Him, but it's not the whole story. While He commands our respect, He also promises to relieve our fears. Over and over God says, "fear not" because He is with us. He will take care of us. Nothing can attack us that He cannot handle. Psalm 118:6 says, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

We worship Him with happy hearts and trembling knees because He is big and awesome and loving and gracious.

When we understand the whole character of God and surrender our lives to Him, a beautiful tension takes root in our hearts between "Fear God!" and "Fear Not!" He is the scariest thing we will ever face. His wrath is more horrible than anything we could imagine. And yet . . . He loves us. He freely forgives us. He pours out His wrath on His own Son to spare us. That's why Psalm 2:11 says, "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." It's because He's scary that we serve Him. We worship Him with happy hearts and trembling knees because He is big and awesome and loving and gracious.

Wisdom Starts with Fear

I'm so proud of the girl who bravely asked if it's okay to be afraid of God. The Bible calls her wise.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!" Psalm 111:10

Do you see God as kinda scary? How do you live in the beautiful tension between "Fear God!" and "Fear not?"

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.