A wrong understanding of the fear of God can result in the fear that God doesn’t love us.
All theology must be balanced; there are almost always ‘two sides of the coin’. The fear of God stems from his majesty and awe. That, if left utterly alone, can lead to despair. This study therefore is a practical application of that lesson. Some of us are more at home with the majesty and sovereignty of God. Some of us are more at home with the sweetness and tenderness of God—the ‘Abba Father’ side of God.
Whatever our theological background, most of us wrestle with the problem that God loves ‘ME’. Those who lay stress on God’s glory have the problem. Those who lay stress on God’s tenderness have the problem. As a pastor I can safely state that it is often the hardest thing in the world for Christians to believe—‘that God really loves ME’. It is in a sense harder to believe than believing that there is a God—or that Jesus died and rose from the dead. It is sometimes not too difficult to believe that God will take care of us or that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (though we may not believe that they are for our good at the time!).
The question is, are we ready to let God love us? Sometimes we are afraid to let him love us, even with all the evidence before us. This is especially true of those who have never felt love; they don’t honestly know how to respond to or accept love.
What lies behind this difficulty in letting God love us?
Some Christians have what is called an ‘overly scrupulous conscience’, a phrase that comes from Puritan studies. Scrupulous: being very conscientious (too careful) even in small matters. Some go beyond this: being overly scrupulous leads to constant worry over matters that have nothing to do with sin.
Some have a ‘perfectionist’ mentality. They are not content with trying, trying harder, doing your best, getting a ‘pass’, getting 90 per cent or even 99.9 per cent. They feel they must produce 100 per cent in order to feel accepted; but nobody ever does
It may be a psychological problem. Some cannot call God ‘Father’ and think it is a spiritual problem. It is usually a mental block, something they cannot help, possibly because their only relationship with a father in this life was so poor. They may have had an abusive or over-strict father. They may have had a father who was so busy he was never there when needed; the ‘absent’ father.
It may be due to a faulty theology. It may be because they have had a spiritual or theological diet with a one-sided emphasis on the fear, justice, wrath and/or sovereignty of God. It may be because they are still living under the Old Covenant, under the Law, not unlike some Puritans. Such virtually live under the promise of heaven, or assurance you are saved, by works of the Law. Such people often have little or no assurance of their own salvation, even if they have been professing Christians for years and years.
Note: it is sadly true that many of the Puritans had no assurance of salvation even at the time of death.
It may be because of personal failure, or sin. If we have let God down, especially if we’ve done it more than once, it is often difficult to believe God still loves us. Rather than claim 1 John 1:9—‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’—we often feel the need to ‘perform’ for him. The result often is that we don’t feel he loves us; if anything, we don’t think he should love us.
R. T. Kendall, Understanding Theology, Volume One (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1996), 322–323.