African Christian, Do Not Fear, for God is Holy

This blog was originally written by Lucky Mogakane and posted on TGC Africa.

In a previous article, I reflected on judgment and the fear of God, arguing that God doesn’t threaten judgment in order to make people fear him. As I worked on that article, I realised that the word ‘fear’ is used to exhort God’s people ‘not to fear,’ more than in any other way. While I hope to write more on the topic, this article will explore one of the reasons God gives us so that we might not fear. And it’s this: God is holy.

This is explicit in a passage like Isaiah 8:11-13. God says: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” God exhorts the prophet not to fear what people do; and, instead, to honour God who is holy.

So there’s some kind of relationship between fear and reckoning with God’s holiness. Taken further, God’s exhortation implies that when we fear other things we don’t honour God as holy. But what does it mean to honour God as holy?

There Is No One and Nothing Else Like God

Honouring God as holy has to do with acknowledging his radical distinctness from all creation; that is he is set apart. God is unlike any other. Therefore, an exhortation to fear God is an exhortation to have a right view of God, in relation to whatever else we fear. Recognising who God is guards us against fearing his creation (Isaiah 41:13-14; 44:2).

Consider Isaiah 44:6-8, where God says he is not like any god therefore his people shouldn’t fear. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

God’s point in that passage is fairly straightforward. He alone is God. There is no one like him. Therefore his people shouldn’t fear. But note that this exhortation is rooted in God being distinct from everything else. “Who is like me?” God asks. The implied answer: no one. The one who knows all things knows of nothing that can be compared to him. So God’s people need not be afraid.

Need We Fear the Spirits?

Understanding the above is a great comfort to many Africans. For it addresses our fear of the spirits. They are nothing like God. Their power wilts before his. Nothing can be compared to him. No power in the universe can oppose him, nothing visible or invisible. So then why do we fear those powers? There may be many spirits, authorities, principalities, powers, and forces in creation. But none of them is God. As we read in Isaiah 44, he is the first and the last; that is, eternal. While everything thing in the universe finds its being in God, he alone is uncreated and sovereign (Colossians 1:16-17).

What About the Ancestors?

But, at least where I come from, greater than the spirits loom the ancestors. These are people who upon death are clothed with power to influence and affect the lives of the living, for good or for evil. This view causes many Africans to live in great fear. But our passage from Isaiah 44 above speaks to this too. “Who is like me?” When we ask: which of the ancestors can be compared to God? The answer remains there is none. No one. Not one of them compares to God.

There Is Only One Lord Over Death

On this point, God also addresses our fear of the ancestors by transforming our view of death. Death isn’t glorious. Those who die aren’t clothed with splendour, power, or majesty to warrant fear and honour among the living. Consider one last passage from Isaiah, where God uses death to lessen our fear of man.

“I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets himself to destroy?” (Isaiah 51:12-13). Men and women die. God does not. He made everything, including man.

When people die they aren’t endowed with power to affect the living. If they were, God would’ve told us to fear man, perhaps especially because he dies. But God says the precise opposite. Because man dies, don’t fear him.

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