Many people, even those who are not atheists, claim that the fear of God is a dubious attitude. Humans are better if they are innately virtuous, we like to think. I’ve seen this story portray a person as super-virtuous. But I think her attitude actually shows why the fear of God was present and why it is necessary.
A single mother in Fargo, North Dakota, who works two jobs, was out running errands with her seven-year-old daughter. They spotted a wallet in a parking lot. The woman picked it up and found it contained a great deal of cash. It also had the owner’s driver’s license. She drove to the address with her daughter and returned the wallet with all its contents. The owner of the wallet and the money had not even realized yet that he had lost them. The wallet contained a thousand dollars.
Why did she do that?
One reason she gave is that she wanted to set a good example for her daughter. I’m sure that was a motivation. But that wasn’t all she said. According to WDAY she revealed she had another motivation: “The only option was to return it. But, I called my mom and I said you know, God is really testing me today.”
She knew God was watching her.
Many people think it is sub-ethical to do right because one believes God is watching one’s behavior. But, in truth, a commitment to be virtuous won’t last long when people have so many ways of justifying their own behavior to themselves. We are all masterful at coming up with justifications for doing what we already want to do. We all know people who manage to do all sorts of ego-gratifying things and rationalize that behavior as virtuous.
While it doesn’t work in everyone at every time, one thing that keeps people from justifying unrighteous behavior is a real belief that God is watching what we do and is going to judge us for it. If we know that God is watching us then we know that he is going to judge us according to truth, not according to what we want to be the truth.
This lively sense of living in the presence of the God of all the earth means people will be motivated to restrain their selfishness and pursue honesty and integrity.