I've had this argument with theists for years about what the bible means when it says that we should fear the Lord. They claim that it does not mean fear as in coerce through terror, but rather fear as in respect. I am here to state emphatically that this latter idea is false and incorrect. First of all respect and fear are two very different words with opposite meanings.
- esteem: a feeling or attitude of admiration and deference toward somebody or something
- state of being admired: the state of being admired deferentially
- thoughtfulness: consideration or thoughtfulness
- feeling of anxiety: an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or anticipation of danger
- frightening thought: an idea, thought, or other entity that causes feelings of fear
- reverence: respect or awe for somebody or something
In Proverbs 9:10 and many other places in the scriptures it is emphasized that fear of the Lord is the most important thing a servant of God must possess. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." The biblical deity does not simply ask for respect he demands it! Yet in my view his acts and numerous crimes against humanity as narrated in the Old Testament are only deserving of my disgust and disdain for such a deity. I've often stated that if a man were to do half of what God had done to mankind he would be considered a monster devoid of morality. Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and others have proven my point quite nicely.
At the end of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:18,20 Moses informs the Israelites about the reasons why they should fear the Lord after the people were terrified out of their minds from hearing God's voice from the mountain and seeing lightning above them. 18"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
As you can see this so called fear of the Lord is best described by the first definition given above. According to the scriptures the sign that you love God is that you obey his commandments. But in reality you don't obey them because they are right and true. You obey them because you fear what in the case of Christians might befall you after death if you die outside of God's graces. The entire religious enterprise is built upon the principles of fear. The Old Testament has God interacting with his people in miraculous and often scary ways, while the New Testament has the looming threat of an eternal hell fire hanging over the heads of believers.
In reality, which happens to be the world we currently live in you have to give respect to get it. If you treat people as if they are inferior, useless, or discriminate against them for a number of illogical reasons then they wont respect you. If you force them to respect you through intimidation and fear then what you have is fear and not respect. As I stated earlier respect has to be earned; it is not something you just randomly give away. Based on the bible stories about Yahweh, Elohim, or whatever you want to call him the biblical deity doesn't even qualify in my book for my respect and admiration. I see reflections of the biblical God in Hitler, Stalin, Mao, John Wayne Gacy, Vlad the impaler, and a few other human devils that have walked this earth.
Finally, before I end this post I would like to point out that I do not agree with the third definition of fear above. "reverence: respect or awe for somebody or something" this is not fear this is respect and admiration. I am just saying this since I do have some theists come through that love to nitpick my posts and misconstrue everything I say in them.
Note: All word definitions are from Bing Dictionary online and all biblical citations are from the New International Version.