Psalm 130: “That You May Be Feared”

We are in the midst of a transition and are doing some traveling at the moment. This entry is excerpted/summarized from a sermon I preached yesterday at McCarroll Bible Church in Denver, Colorado.

But there is forgiveness with You;
That You may be feared.

This is not what we would expect, or how we would describe God.  We would say, “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be loved,” or perhaps “There is perfect justice with You, that You may be feared.” But that’s not what it says.

So now the question: why?  Why does he say it like this?  How does forgiveness lead us to fearing God?  It’s a riddle worth pondering.

Go ahead, ponder it a little.  I’ll wait.

If you’ve got some thoughts on this, post ’em in the comments — I’d love to hear from you, and it’s surprising how often different parts of the body come up with different parts of the answer to biblical riddles like this one.  Below, you’ll find my part of the answer.

Imagine if you served a god that was truly and completely impossible to please.  Imagine if nothing you did was ever good enough for this god.  You could do absolutely everything as perfect as you could possibly make it, and still he would find some petty thing wrong with your efforts and rain down judgment on you.

Why bother to try pleasing such a god?  In the end, why even be afraid of him?  Of course he can judge you and cause you problems, but he’s going to do that no matter what, so why change your behavior trying to avoid it?  You’re going to hell already; surely one more brick on the load won’t make any practical difference.  You might as well ignore him and live any way you want.

Yahweh is nothing like that imaginary god.  Yahweh forgives.  Yahweh accepts our efforts and and our worship because He has accepted Christ.  And because He forgives, we can and should fear Him.  Suffering His wrath is optional; we actually have a choice.  Hell will be populated with people who will not receive forgiveness, who do not want it if it comes from Him.

The hellish life of unrepentant sin is likewise optional.  There is no sin for which Christ did not die; there is no act after which you cannot cast ourselves on the mercy of heaven’s court, and receive forgiveness.  If you confess your sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive you your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.  And having been cleansed, you are righteous.  God says so.  On that basis David says to you in the thirty-second psalm,

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!


9 Responses to Psalm 130: “That You May Be Feared”

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    I think you could say I’ve spent a little time in Job. What you have outlined here, Tim, is really the subtext of the argument of that book of Wisdom. (The Psalms is a great place to camp for awhile; they retain multiple wavelengths and echoes of the theology woven into Job.

    The scenario starts and ends with Job fearing God. But there’s 39 very interesting chapters in between. Psalm 130’s affirmation that “That you may be feared . . .” is the logical counterpart of forgiveness is perfectly logical from Job’s point of view, if one understands what Job’s fourth friend Elihu is trying to do. Elihu argues (IMO) successfully that (1) Job sins by ascribing evil to God, even if God has permitted unjust suffering; and (2) God has “provided a ransom” to atone for sin, provide forgiveness, and be reconciled to God (33:23-30, cf. v. 24 re: “ransom”). But Job does not answer, since he isn’t over his “mad” yet even though he very likely has no legitimate theological response to Elihu’s argument.

    Object lesson: The fear of God is the solution for self-sufficiency amid suffering; it is absolutely dependent on confidence in a God who forgives and can deliver through (not necessarily from) suffering. The fear of God stated most elementally? My take: It is granting God the prerogative he already owns—of determining the course of life for each of those he has chosen to represent him on earth. It is OT faith.

  2. Tim Nichols says:


    That was heavy reading before breakfast. Good stuff.

    Taking it a step further, Job sinned with his lips; God rebuked him. Job repented; God forgave him. Then God turned on Job’s three friends and said they “have not spoken of Me what is right, as Job has” — which to a perfectionistic eye is manifestly not true, otherwise why the 4-chapter-long rebuke?

    But God is no perfectionist. He is just, and the justifier of the ungodly — a Pauline way of saying that there is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared.

  3. Jim Reitman says:

    Yup, on Job. And exactly the direction I would move when drawing the NT application of this connection between forgiveness and “fear.” Dave Anderson has a new popular-level book he’s “cooking” on Romans 5-8 and has graced me with his first draft. I’m hoping to convince him to go into “crock pot” mode in order to include this foundation from 3:21-30 as the critical point of departure for this deeper fear-forgiveness connection.

    Seems to me, again, that this is exactly (at least one of) the directions we in FG need to begin moving with more consistency in order to plumb the depths of grace. Yet I continue to see vestiges of modernistic epistemology among FG authors and can only prescribe “the crock-pot” for us as we get increasingly anxious to get our “stuff” out there where it can see the light of day.

  4. Tim Nichols says:

    Part of the problem is the sense that we lost the LS wars in part because Zane was a “crock-pot” writer and MacArthur was/is a “not perfect, but Tuesday” writer. MacArthur’s got a whole NT commentary set, and has had them out for years. Up until about a month ago, where could someone go for a FG take on Jude? You’d have to know somebody… I don’t think the LS guys did such a great job of out-arguing us, but in the popular arena they buried us under a veritable mountain of accessible material. Meanwhile, I own almost every FG book of any consequence published in the last few decades, and the whole stack of them put together barely make a decent doorstop.

    The predictable overreaction to this has been a rush to get into print, and at precisely the wrong time. We are now, as a movement, producing a lot of theological thought sloppy enough to embarass any camp, and everybody can’t wait to get their version in print. Yech.

    Reminds me of that saying about the Army: “Always getting ready to win the previous war.” We aren’t going to win on volume now; it’s got to be quality, and what’s the rush? If the Rapture’s coming next Tuesday, will it really matter that I got my book out on Lulu ten minutes before the trumpet sounded? On the other hand, if it turns out we’ve got another ten thousand years — and we might well — then we can afford to be patient and do it right.

  5. Jim Reitman says:

    Amen, Bro. Well-stated.

  6. Zoe says:

    I have enjoyed reading this post and the comments, and spent some time thinking about this. Having spent years (in the past) following ‘gods’ that fit that dreadful description – harsh and condemning, impossible to please, I wanted to comment on a slightly different aspect: With such gods, it *is* impossible to fear them – when your life is filled with desperately trying to appease such gods, your mind is one of overwhelming panic, shame and terror, at least mine was. And I could not pause for breath to understand them or learn about them, even to think about them and therefore I could not have come to a place of reverence and fear (good thing really – those ‘gods’ deserved neither!). With Yahweh, understanding His forgiveness has brought me to a place of fear and reverence – I have been able to stop running long enough to ‘see’ Him and therefore see how big the gap is between Him and me, and therefore to fear Him for Who He is, with all that encompasses that.

  7. Tim Nichols says:


    Thank you for contributing on this. I don’t know many people better qualified to speak to this than you — you had a particularly intense experience, and I believe it’s given you a lot to offer. There’s a unique ministry in front of you, I think.

    Again, thank you.

  8. David Wyatt says:

    I really appreciate this post, bro. Tim. This is something that has gripped me for a long time! It is God’s grace that causes us to serve & love Him! Of course, His grace sometimes teaches us & it has to sting sometimes, but it is all a part of His love for us (Rev.3:19). Those who reject eternal security because they think it’ll cause us to run wild have never pondered this truth. Of course, sometimes i do foolishly & wickedly let myself so wrong, but that is not His fault. It is when I think of His great love that makes me want to serve Him most. Thanks for reminding me of this tremendous Psalm!

  9. Tim Nichols says:

    Thank you for your kind words.

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