How does the command to fear God, repeated throughout the Bible, mesh with His description as a loving God?
The author of Ecclesiastes writes, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all" (Ecclesiastes:12:13). Such a statement at first glance seems to conflict with other verses in the Bible, such as the one where the apostle John writes, "God is love" (1 John:4:8). But the apparent contradiction disappears when we come to a fuller understanding of the kind of fear the Bible is talking about.
God loves us, and that love is behind the laws and commands He has set in place for us. One of the first things we learn when we begin to understand God is that He hates sin, and that those who choose to practice it in defiance of His law will die (Ezekiel:18:4).
That's something to be afraid of. And so, when we first start obeying God, it could be out of fear of the alternative—death. But the more we keep God's law, the more we come to understand God's love for us. We begin to see that God's laws were not just an arbitrary set of high-stakes rules He set in place just because He could. We discover that He gave us His good laws because He knows that following them will give us the best life possible. Yare' , the Hebrew word translated "fear" in Ecclesiastes:12:13, does not just mean "to be afraid." It carries the additional meanings of to stand in awe of, to reverence, honor and respect.
God does not want us to be in continual terror of Him, though that may be where we start in our relationship with Him. Proper, mature fear of God means having a healthy reverence and respect for the most powerful Being in the universe and the laws He has set in place for our own benefit. We fear God and keep His commandments because He is love. What can we do but stand in awe of that?
For more insight, please read our booklet Who Is God?