In the previous history section, the reverential fear found in Proverbs was explained. Over time, however, it seems as though this awe of God's perfection began to fade. Where exactly did this fear go and what does it mean for God's people? This section delves into the evolution in our relationship with God from fear to fair-weather friendship.
The Evolution of Fear
When reading the Old and New Testament, a comparison of the two texts could lead one to believe that the “Gods” portrayed are two juxtaposed entities. Christian writer, Rick Warren, and many atheistic writers, such as Richard Dawkins, reiterate this misconception. This leads people to question why the God of the Old Testament seems so different than that of the New Testament. At the center of this debate is the misunderstanding about the nature of God. These writers made the rash judgment that, “The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is a God of love” (Got Questions Ministries). Atheist and agnostic writers try to attack the Christian Bible by poking holes in the Christian God’s perfection and unity by asserting that the Old and New Testament Gods are disconnected. In Farewell to God, Charles Templeton, a Christian Evangelist and founder of the Avenue Road Church of the Nazarene, who later declared that he was agnostic, stated, “The God of the Old Testament is utterly unlike the God believed in by most practicing Christians . . . His justice is, by modern standards, outrageous . . . He is biased, querulous, vindictive, and jealous of his prerogatives” (Templeton, 1999). Some Christian writers also teach this misunderstanding. Rick Warren, founder of the Saddleback Church and Christian author, perpetuates this idea on his blog “Daily Hope with Rick Warren”. In the article “You can have friendship with God” he wrote, “But fear of God, not friendship, was more common in the Old Testament. Then Jesus changed the situation… Unlike the Old Testament priests who had to spend hours preparing to meet God, we can now approach God anytime.” This preaching perpetuates the dichotomy of the New and Old Testament Gods. Stating that the respectful rituals of the Old Testament priests inhibited friendship with God, Warren leads his readers to believe that this reverence is not necessary in a modern day relationship. Below is a sermon by Rick Warren that further demonstrates his preaching on this topic. The Catholic Church vehemently rejected the Marcionic conception of a dual “good” and “bad” God. Rather, the Church taught that the God of the New and Old Testament are one. The fear of God found in the Old Testament is still very much seen in the God of the New Testament. However, comfort in God’s love can overpower the need for an all-encompassing awe and fear of God that is so explicitly referenced in Proverbs. This loving God, coupled with the message of Jesus, incites a more personal relationship between God and His children. Although this may appear to enrich the relationship, in some ways, abuse of this personal friendship has lead to the abandonment of the fear that is needed to fully understand and revere God. Some do not understand fear as the complete awe and reverence of God’s divine authority; instead they see a terrifying and unforgiving figure. The consequence of reading scripture about fearing God is that it often leads us to misunderstand this word “fear” and to attribute other negative attribute to the nature of God (Hudson). As discussed in the previous essay, “enter title”, the fear found in Proverbs is a venerating admiration of God’s perfection. Neale Donald Walsch, author of the book series, The Conversations with God, explained this misconception of fear through the eyes of God. He wrote, “Many people think of Me as a parent, not a friend- and a harsh, cruel, demanding, angry parent at that. A Father who will tolerate absolutely no failure in certain areas” (Walsch). This is the contrived idea of fear that depicts God as a cruel tyrant. Believing that God wishes to smite you at every turn leads some away from Him. However, horror and awe, both of which can be attributed to fear, are very different. Trevor Hudson, a Methodist pastor in South Africa wrote in his book Friendship with God: How God’s offer of Intimate Relationship Can Change your Life, wrote, “When we are told to fear God in the Bible, we are being invited into a respectful reverence for Him..a sense of awe”. By delving further into a critique of Walsch’s ideas in his book series, it was found that he proposes that you cannot have a true friendship if you harbor this “fearship”. However, Walsch’s definition is not aligned with the fear seen in Proverbs, of wisdom and wonder. Rather, fear is necessary in having a true relationship with God. When this fear and reverence is gone, the relationship with God becomes more of a convenient “working friendship”, rather than the meaningful relationship that it is intended to be (Walsch). Walsch does bring up the strong assertion that, “Among those who do see Me as their friend…hold Me at a great distance. They do not have a working friendship with Me. It is, rather a very distant relationship that they hope they can count on if they should ever have to. But it is not the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute friendship that it could be” (Walsch). Friendship with God soon becomes a one-way street. People are no longer concerned with following God’s will, and only acknowledge him when they have something to gain. A relationship is there when it is convenient or helpful, but it is not rooted in all-encompassing awe. “When reflections about friendship with God degenerate into a superficial ‘Jesus is my buddy’ way of relating, something has gone badly wrong. Nevertheless, if fear [dread] dominates our relationship with God, there is also something wrong, and it must be faced.” This distinction and, yet conjunction, between fear and friendship is something that many wrestle with. In the book “The Shift”, O.K. Johnson, a member of the Living Waters Church, likened God to his father in the chapter “God is not my Buddy”, “My dad wasn’t my buddy. He was my dad. He was to be respected for who he was…I view God in the same way. He is my Lord and King. Now it is true that as believers we are friends with God through Jesus. We have fellowship with Him. However, we should never take that newfound friendship for granted…we still need that healthy respect and awe of who our “Abba” Father is” (Johnson 42). Friendship and fear must go hand in hand if it is to be truly rooted in love.
In this sermon, Rick Warren displays his misunderstanding of the relationship between the Gods found in the Old and New Testament. In particular, in the first four minutes of his sermon, Warren discuses the perfect relationship between God and Adam and Even found in the Garden of Eden and how it is lost in the Old Testament. He juxtaposes the informal relationship between God and man before sin and how it becomes ritualized throughout the Old Testament. Warren’s assertion that there are few “friends of God in the Old Testament” portrays the God of the Old Testament as simply harsh and unfriendly. Warren used the contrived definition of fear as terror instead of awe and implies that rituals and traditions separate the average man from God. Unlike the New Testament, in which love is restored through Jesus, he argues that the Old Testament is filled with more guilt and fear than friendship. Through this rhetoric, Warren perpetuates the incorrect idea that the Old and New Testament Gods are separate in nature.
Hudson, Trevor, Friendship with God: How God’s offer of Intimate Relationship canchange your life, (Nashville: Upper Room Books).
Johnson, O.K. The Shift: Moving from Religion to Relationship, (PCG Legacy, 2012) Chapter “God is not my buddy.”
Templeton, Charles. 1999. Farewell to God, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 71.
Walsch, Neale Donald, Friendship with God: An Uncommon Dialogue (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1999), Chapter 3.
Got Questions Ministries. “Why is God so different in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament?,” Got Questions, accessed April 4, 2016, http://www.gotquestions.org/Goddifferent.html.
Warren,Rick. How To Become Best Friends With God, Saddleback Church, California, 2 Dec 2014.