10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who is the man who fears the LORD?
He will instruct him in the way he should choose.
13 His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
In our day people in more refined circles speak with a degree of fondness about “seriousness,” “living seriously,” “being serious,” and “thinking seriously.” People in both orthodox and modernistic circles do this. In orthodox circles, this means that someone has reached a point of being reflective about their situation. In a modernistic context, it means that a person is not a carouser, doesn’t live a debauched lifestyle, and is not enslaved to sensuality but sets their sights on higher things.
In the vocabulary of our century, the word “serious” has gotten wide usage because of its many-sided meanings. It’s a word that people use readily and with appreciation. It awakens better aspirations in our heart. Everyone tolerates its usage. It’s not entirely misunderstood even in rather superficial circles where now and then it’s employed to refer to the serious side of life. It’s comparable to the younger children in our aristocratic families, where everyone thinks of them lovingly, like little Benjamins. Thus the tone struck in our era by the image of being serious is such that almost all speakers appeal to it. They think that by talking about being serious they evoke a feeling of warmth and kindle a fire in their listeners. And it’s true that the thought of being serious inspires you to do better and is uplifting.
“Serious or fun loving” tells you enough about what being serious involves. People are serious when they no longer joke around about everything. Getting serious starts when all the vain, empty talk stops. The person is serious who hesitates going along with all the lighthearted frivolity of our age that mocks everything that is dear or painful. “Being serious” is the opposite of “being playful” and is in stark contrast with literally making a game of everything from early morning until late at night. Those who are serious mean what they say. They embrace life in its reality. They restrain empty-headedness. Life becomes meaningful for them.
This is all quite wonderful! But it’s also a serious indictment on the miserable, dissipated spirit of our age. A person for whom things are meaningful is an exception. So is one for whom life is much more than a game. Let’s be clear. You’re an exception when you get sick to your stomach of all the empty jabber and unrestrained chatter of the children of our time. They simply laugh and snicker their lives away!
Theirs is the true French spirit whose revolutionary atmosphere has settled over a pathetic Christianity. The French Revolution with its intoxicating brew has made baptized people so woozy that they are ashamed to identify what’s good as good any longer. And when they have some need, they blush beet red if anyone catches them in a brief prayer.
These are bad times. Many families, both parents and youngsters—take whichever you choose—are just as entertaining and just as offensive to watch as a cage full of playful, howling, grimacing chimpanzees at the zoo. How often don’t you encounter devilish dishonesty? Hellish pleasure in the mocking, devilish delight with what is evil, brutish, or vicious?
In such circles, you are certain to find a serious person, even a devout one, who will speak “a serious word” that falls like a drop of dew on some worn-out soul. Their voice is a call to seriousness. It’s an expression of courage, love, and higher purpose. We wholeheartedly celebrate their kind of seriousness. We’re pleased when a break occurs in unbelieving circles with what’s empty, stifling, and vain. We’re enthusiastic when oppression of all that’s holy is somewhat diminished.
But should we as Christians then adopt the way the unbelieving world thinks about seriousness, with its emphases? Just because seriousness has somewhat higher standing in these circles with such low standards, does it measure up to the much higher, more glorious ideals set for us by the cross of Jesus Christ?
Understand that the Word of God knows virtually nothing about that kind of “seriousness” and “living seriously.” The expressions “with seriousness,” “seriously,” and “serious” do appear a few times in Scripture. But they do so with a completely different meaning from the way people presently talk about “being serious.” “Give serious attention to” in Exodus 15:26 and other places says no more than “listen carefully” to something. To do something “seriously” in Jeremiah 22:4 means no more than “to tackle something with enthusiasm.” But you never read in God’s Word about a “seriousness” that stands independently, like a distinct virtue that is the mother of all other virtues.
Taken in that sense, “serious” first appeared among the followers of Cocceius. The larger portion of them called themselves “serious Cocceians” to distinguish themselves from the lighthearted impieties of others in their circle. Since then usage of the term has increased to the extent that emphasis on the seriousness of life has decreased. The more that everything was seen as a game, the more obvious it became that people often had to make clear that they weren’t “simply playing around.” The word that came in handy in making that point was the word “serious.”
Simply for that reason the enthusiasm for parrying with “being serious” has become less applicable in a Christian setting. That’s just the nature of the situation. There the canvas on which the more ideal images should be alluringly displayed is already beginning to be tinted with this notion of “being serious.”
If Scripture wants to get our attention and shake us out of our complacency, and where it wants us to reflect on eternity, it doesn’t approach us with the weak directive “Be a little serious now!” It takes a completely different and incomparably deeper approach. It says: “Fear God!”
“The fear of God” is the biblical language for what in our time passes for “being serious.” But pay careful attention to the much loftier and more glorious meaning that this conveys.
A “serious person” is someone who is self-satisfied. They resist the dishonesty and scoffing emptiness of their surroundings. They oppose it and pursue what’s better and more meaningful in life. They consider carefully what they’re doing. They calculate the consequences. They’re mindful of what people don’t observe. But all of this happens in their own strength and through their own excellent qualities. In their own estimation, such people are part of a kind of moral aristocracy.
By contrast, “the fear of the Lord” cuts this Arminian thistle off at its roots. It humbles you to the dust along with all those scoffers. It makes you as guilty in the presence of the Holy One as all the mockers. It teaches you that all you do must be done meaningfully and evaluated meaningfully because God is secretly involved with all of it. You can never say about any of it: “This involves me alone, not God!”
The “serious person” sets the standards for their life and opposes everything that puts pressure on the rules they have made. But the God-fearing person bows before the law of God and moves forward with all God’s people in the power of the atoning blood.
You can be “serious” and still essentially worship yourself. But “the fear of God” keeps on disturbing you until every idol in your life has been toppled.
A person can be “serious” even on their deathbed, from which they’ll be carried off to hell. But “the fear of God” bears a person up on the glorious promise that shortly they will see “the secret things of God”!
So now you understand why people endeavor to be “serious” but avoid talking about “the fear of God.”
Oh, all that chatter about “being serious” inflates the ego! It keeps alive the sense of self as we imagine it! But when the “fear of God” takes over, the entire creature is compelled to submit. The Lord lives and he alone is great.
The lesson to be learned from all of this is obvious.
We learn that “being serious” is an inferior concept. It does bear a nobler stamp when contrasted with the terribly harebrained approach to life in our age. And we also learn that Scripture talks to us not about “being serious” but about something much higher, holier, and more glorious. It uses the language of “fearing God.” It obligates us Christians to recognize that fundamentally we are “not serious” and that we reject our Christian honor when we allow ourselves to be inspired by the spirit of the age rather than by God’s Word. For then, in effect, we sever the nerve of “fearing God.” What we’re left with is merely “being serious”!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms