Asking the Question
Recently a friend and fellow retired peace officer posed a question to me that I have heard in one form or another since I began to grapple with philosophy, theology, and human nature (especially as I sat in the interrogation room many times with some of the most incorrigibly inveterate and not ‘God fearing’ people you can imagine). He asked,
“I was just reading a book that referenced ‘good God fearing men.’ As I pondered that term I wondered if I was ‘God fearing’ and I realized I'm not. I feel like I'm more ‘God appreciating.’ In my mind, the first obeys God's moral directives for fear of God's retribution. The second obeys God's moral directives out of an earnest intent to please God. It may seem a minor difference in point of view, but it seems significant to me; kind of the difference between a child who behaves for fear of being spanked or the adult who acts morally and ethically ‘because it's the right thing to do’ or ‘goodness is its own reward.’ That kind of thing.”
As I have grappled with his thoughtful question, I reflected that while he has a trenchant observation, I could not help but think it incomplete (okay, maybe not incomplete but needing to be fleshed out a little).
When folks approach me with a question, whether in the field as a chaplain, after a service on Sunday, or in other places, I often ask, “Why do you want to know?” Often our questions reveal that there is something underneath that we really want to know. Now, I won’t ascribe anything to my friend in that regard. But, for others who have asked (and for me when I have asked), it often has come down to just where do I stand with God – where do I stand with the One who put breath and heartbeat in me? This often treads on ground of who ultimately has authority in my life, and how much (if any) ‘free will’ do I really have, especially in spiritual matters.
While I can’t do justice to this these topics in this short article, my hope and prayer for you chaplains and for you peace officers is that it will pique your thought process and help you to see that not only do you need spiritual back up for the noble calling you have taken as a peace officer, but that you have it in the ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus, who in His life, death, and resurrection has taken on the ultimate bad guys of sin, death, and the devil (the retribution or wrath we deserve); and, He has reshaped what the ‘fear of God’ means (our response to His grace) for those who have Him as their back up.
Fear that is Fitting
Although, the question has us grappling with the spiritual, we know that the physical is often a picture or a manifestation of what is going on in the spiritual arena. When you go through the academy and in-service training and are brushing up on Officer Survival Skills no one says, ‘have no fear!’ No, instead we are trained that we should be attuned to that ‘fear hair’ on the back of our necks that sticks up when things ‘just aren’t right.’ This kind of fear keeps us alert and can save our lives.
Similarly, proper understanding of “The fear of the Lord” is key as we wrestle “not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
“The fear of the Lord” is often stated in the Old Testament. Translating the original Hebrew word for ‘fear’ into the English can be difficult as there is not just one English word that covers its meaning. For our contemporary ears the word fear often is thought of as negative – that is, to be afraid of something or someone. The Hebrew word can mean just that – Genesis 32:11 says, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he come and strike me, and the mothers with the children.” (Here, Jacob is preparing to meet his brother Esau from whom he had fled because he had scammed Esau out of his birthright.)