I need fear. Fear seems like an evil thing, but I need it. It should be part of who I am. I don't envision myself as a timid coward, but there is a fear that should be important to my life.
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." (Proverbs 9:10 ESV)
When Christians talk about fear, we see it as an awful thing that we must entirely avoid. As a result of that mindset, we dumb down the definition of fear as it applies to God. A fear of the Lord becomes a deep respect. I often hear Christians use the analogy (and have even used it myself) that I have a deep respect of poisonous snakes, which is fear in a sense. However, I don't have a deep respect of poisonous snakes . . .
. . . I have an intense, undying, TERRIFYING FEAR of snakes.
Should I fear snakes more than I fear God? Obviously not. So what should this fear look like?
As a project for my undergrad I searched out occurrences of this phrase in Scripture and made a statistical analysis. I found that the majority of references to the "fear of God" talked about the need to obey and follow his commands. This is how we demonstrate that fear.
But what is the "fear" itself actually like? Most of the time, this fear appeared as actual, outright terror of what God would or could do. The various biblical authors repeated phrases like "trembling for fear" (Psalm 119:120) and "fearing God's terrors" (Job 23:15). Of what do we have to be afraid?
Over and over, the biblical authors demonstrated our need to be in absolute terror of what God can do. However, we know that our God is also merciful and slow to anger. Therefore, we can also be at peace, knowing that God will ultimately show mercy on those who fear him completely.