Latest from Tropical Storm Elsa and condominium collapse: Do Americans fear God? If not, why not?

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More than four million people in Florida are under hurricane warnings as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches landfall this morning. The system became a Category 1 hurricane yesterday before weakening to a tropical storm early today. Millions of people are facing life-threatening storm surges, heavy winds, potential isolated tornadoes, and heavy rains that could cause flooding up and down the Florida coast.

Meanwhile, the search for victims of the Surfside, Florida, building collapse reached its fourteenth day today. Eight more deaths have been announced, bringing the death toll to three dozen with more than one hundred people still unaccounted for.

Sisters buried in the same casket

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn have been married seventy-five years today, the longest marriage in presidential history. From living in publicly subsidized housing while running a peanut warehouse to becoming governor of Georgia and president of the United States—theirs is a made-in-America story.

Their anniversary is not the only auspicious event on this day. On July 7, 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first female Supreme Court justice in US history. On this day five years earlier, female cadets enrolled at West Point for the first time.

However, the storm in Florida and the condominium tragedy remind us of our finitude as Americans and as humans.

The bodies of two young sisters pulled from the rubble of the Florida condo building were buried in the same casket yesterday alongside their parents. Officials in Montana are searching today for a grizzly bear that killed a woman early Tuesday. Chicago has now recorded more than two thousand shootings so far this year, a 58 percent increase since 2019. And the “woke” culture continues to escalate as Disney removes “ladies and gentlemen” from its Magic Kingdom greeting to be more inclusive.

As we noted Monday, the freedom we celebrated on July 4 is rooted in the declaration that “all men are created equal.” However, as we discussed yesterday, our freedom as finite and fallen people is best exercised under the authority of our Creator. When we fear God, we need fear nothing else, as Oswald Chambers observed.

Why don’t we fear God?

When was the last time you feared the judgment of God so much that you did something you would not otherwise have done? When was the last time you did not do something you would have done for the same reason?

It’s hard to fear what we don’t believe exists. I doubt that you’re worried about an invasion by Martians this morning.

According to Pew Research Center, 10 percent of Americans do not believe in God; another 33 percent believe in some type of higher power but not the God of the Bible. Only 43 percent of those under thirty believe in the one true God.

But denying the existence of something or someone doesn’t change its reality. I’ve never met the Queen of England, but denying her existence makes her no less real. The man who told me “I don’t believe in hell” didn’t change the existence of hell. In fact, if he persists in his rejection of the gospel, one day he will discover for himself how wrong he was.

In addition, many Americans have attended churches where divine judgment and the existence of hell are seldom if ever mentioned. The “seeker sensitive” movement that began in the 1980s was a well-intentioned strategy to make worship services more accessible to nonbelievers. However, if we speak only on topics that lost people want to hear, we are like oncologists who never tell our patients when they have a life-threatening malignancy.

If we don’t help others fear God now, one day they will most assuredly wish we had.

Why should we fear God?

The first reason to fear God is that he is fearsome. He is the Judge of the universe (Revelation 20:11–15) before whom “each of us will give an account of himself” (Romans 14:12). We do well to remember every day that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

second reason to fear and revere God is that his word commands us to do so. The psalmist called us to “serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:1). Jesus was blunt: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

third reason to fear God is that doing so is best for us. The God who is love (1 John 4:8) wants only our best. His will for us is always “perfect” (Romans 12:2). The harder it is to obey his word, the more we need to obey his word.

The king of the universe cannot honor rebellion against his reign lest he deny his holiness and permit that which harms his subjects. He calls us to seek his glory because to do less would be idolatry on his part and ours. Conversely, when we enthrone him in our hearts and serve him with fear and reverence, we experience his best in and through our lives.

A frightening flashback

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss practical steps we can take to fear and revere God more fully. For today, let’s ask ourselves this question: If I feared God more than I do, what would change in my life?

I came across my doctoral dissertation in my library yesterday. Opening it, my mind flashed back to December of 1986 and the oral exams I had to pass before I could begin writing it. During the two-hour test, my professors could ask me anything we had discussed in three years of doctoral seminars. Only if I passed their scrutiny would I be permitted to write the dissertation that would complete my degree.

I spent six months preparing for those exams. I had the highest respect for my professors and actually feared their examination since they held my academic future in their hands. But the experience made me a better student and scholar, which was precisely what it was intended to do.

Paul testified: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). I don’t know that you and I will face his judgment tomorrow, but I don’t know that we won’t.

Are you ready?

If not, why not?

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