Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Sermon Illustrations

Home > Sermon Illustrations

True Fear of God

A few summers ago, we took a family vacation to Toronto. We'd never been there, and we didn't know what to see, but all the guidebooks said, "You have to go up the CN Tower, the world's tallest building and free-standing structure."

I didn't think that was a good idea, because I have a great fear of heights. Just the thought of being 1,815 feet above the ground made me queasy. But the kids said, "Aww, Dad, we gotta go. C'mon, Dad," so against my better judgment, we went.

I was the last one into the elevator, and I turned around, as some unwritten "Law of Elevators" says you're supposed to do. Then we started up. It was only then that I realized that the door of this elevator was actually made of glass, and that this elevator was affixed to the outside of the tower. So as we rushed up the side of the CN Tower, I could see the city of Toronto falling away at my feet. I was only inches from the door—and from the air outside and a freefall.

My palms started sweating, my throat got tight, and I started breathing really fast. I told myself, Just hang on. Soon you'll be on the observation floor.

I stumbled out of the elevator onto the observation floor, where I thought it would be safe. But I found that some sadist had installed a glass floor there, so that people could walk on it, and look straight down to the ground.

The kids were laughing as they walked onto the glass floor, jumped up and down, and even laid down.

"C'mon, Dad!" they yelled.

I didn't care how thick those blocks of glass were; they were installed by the contractor with the lowest bid, so I wasn't going to chance it.

That same year, we went to the Grand Canyon, where you can stand at the South Rim and peer 6,000 feet straight down. At the Grand Canyon, you are not separated from your doom by blocks of glass 2½ inches thick. So every year, an average of four or five people die while visiting. Some deaths happen because of (in one website's words) "overly zealous photographic endeavors."

Still, the Grand Canyon is so beautiful that I was drawn to it. I had to see it, to get near it. I knew I couldn't do anything too foolish near the edge, but the same awesome beauty that caused me fear drew me toward it.

When the Bible talks about "fearing God," what is it talking about? Is it talking about the kind of fear I felt at the CN Tower? Or is it more like the fear I felt at the Grand Canyon?

For most of my Christian life, preachers and writers have told me it's like the fear I felt at the CN Tower. "When the Bible says to fear God," they explained, "it doesn't really mean fear. It means awe or reverence. You should respect God, of course, but you don't need to actually fear him. It's like you're standing on the glass floor 1,100 feet up in the CN Tower. Being there may give you a thrill or a quick feeling of awe, but you're completely safe. So if you do feel any terror with God, it's unnecessary or even irrational."

That all sounded good. I believed that. And I told other people that.

But the Bible disagrees. Isaiah prophesies, "The LORD Almighty is the one … you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread." And Jesus says, "Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he's the one to fear."

So when the Bible talks about fearing God, it means not just awe, and not just reverence. It also means fear. It's the kind of fear I felt at the Grand Canyon, where I was drawn to the amazing beauty, but I also felt a realistic fear at the danger, because people who acted foolishly near it have died.

Related Sermon Illustrations

Eugene Peterson on Our Dangerous Faith

Sometimes I think that all religious sites should be posted with signs reading, "Beware the God." The places and occasions that people gather to attend to God are dangerous. They're ...

[Read More]

An Awful, Awesome God

I remember an animated discussion with my high school freshman English teacher over the word awful. I insisted on using awe-full to describe something so exalted as to arouse reverence. ...

[Read More]