“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
The phrase “the fear of the Lord” and variations thereof are found scattered throughout scripture, in Testaments both Old and New. Proverbs alone has 18 of these references.
Clearly, fearing God is something that should matter to us. But we don’t talk about it much. And when we do, it’s often waved away by retranslating it as “reverence” or “respect,” presumably because fear is seen as such a negative emotion.
But is this right? Should we not fear the Lord? And by “fear,” I mean just, “fear.” Isn’t it right that when we encounter, or indeed even consider the reality of God, we should have feelings of fear?
God is real. God made us. And he made the reality that encapsulates our existence. The idea of having ideas is his idea. There is no external measure or rule he must adhere to. The very concept of measure and rule is his invention. His person is the definition of goodness. He is himself the rule. The framework for all our understanding of truth is itself a created thing. God is other.
Fear seems the only sane response to this person.
Certainly this fear can lead us away from God. The case could be made that fear of the Lord leads many to Atheism. They fear the Lord as some would fear a monster under the bed. The reality of which is too terrible to endure, and so, it must be eradicated.
But God does not invite us to fear him as one would fear a monster. Rather, we fear him as one might fear a towering cliff. We are drawn to its heights and precipices, full of fear. Keenly aware of the otherness and dangers at the edges, we step lightly. Only a fool would dance without fear here. And yet, there is such a view. On this mountain is a perspective that enlarges our hearts and our imaginations.1
Is it good? Yes. Is it dangerous? Definitely.
So it is with the Lord. We should have fear when we encounter him. He is great. We are not. But it is his worthiness to be feared that brings his love into such sweet relief. His just wrath makes his mercy more poignant. His glory makes his kindness downright staggering.
When humans are met by God in scripture, they regularly fall down as if dead, and sometimes cry out for mercy. And God (or God’s spokesman) often says something along the lines of, “do not be afraid.” This whole exchange seems right and good. It’s not that the people shouldn’t be afraid in God’s presence—they should. The falling and crying out for mercy is appropriate because of who God is. Likewise God’s extension of undeserved grace is also an expression of his character, and made possible for all time through Christ’s work.
It is in the beautiful marriage of complexities of God’s character that we find the joy of knowing the Lord, and of being loved and known by him. In fact, were the human mind able to fully consider God’s great love, glory, and fierce justice, the cross event would almost seem inevitable. How else could this God have satisfied both his love and his justice, and glorified himself in the act?
Until we fear the Lord for who he is, we can never fully appreciate his love. That is why, as Solomon said, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Christ be praised, our God is terribly wonderful.
Obviously this, like all analogies, breaks down. God is not an impersonal mountain, but a person himself.↩