The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)

To the contemporary mind, this proverb is difficult to grasp, may be troubling, and is probably quickly dismissed or explained away. After all, today we often best explain God with words like love, tolerance, and acceptance, in accord with our all-embracing, all-forgiving, all-accepting postmodern ethos of “relative truth.” Our cultural norms mandate openness and tolerance for everything and everyone, and reject judgement, standards, or even negative thoughts and feelings.  Everybody should just get along, do their own thing, and not interfere! Biblical teachings like the Law of God, fear of God, judgment, sin, and Hell are not sensitive to today’s self-righteous individual seeking to actualize his or her total human potential (ugh! what do you say on your death-bed: I came pretty close?).   However disconcerting to the modern mind and out of step with progressive humanism, the “fear of the Lord” is a concept consistently sprinkled throughout Scripture. It is part of the Word of God. It is God’s revealed truth to us.  He demands as Lord (and I suggest) we might benefit by paying closer attention and seeking wisdom and understanding.

Let’s look at some Biblical references to the first key word in the verse: “fear.” A simplistic interpretation is that we must fear the Lord because if we don’t we will be punished. God is a mean father figure! This fear then is best visualized by an act of one’s cowering in the face of a wrathful Creator. Fear seems to suggest that we obey, or be subject to His wrath. This is a threatening God, certainly not  one the postmodern mind could accept. After all, we are good people, and seek only to grow as individuals in our quest for self-actualization, like an amalgam of Hegel, Darwin and Maslow. God must be on board with our march along the road of human progress!  Why would he be angry? Why would we ever fear Him. He is the Creator of the whole “Let’s just get along and accept everyone and everything” deal, right?

The Bible teaches us plainly that His wrath is real and is justified in the light of man’s depraved condition, our slavery to the sinful nature of the fallen world. The fear of the Lord is a far more complex teaching than an angry father with a belt in hand waiting to tan our hides. It is not (only) our fear of punishment that drives us to rightly fear God. The Old Testament is full of God’s wrath pouring out on His disobedient children; yet with direct personal rebuke from God, they continued to sin–no matter how swift and dreadful the punishment and how real their fear. So how to fear the Lord? What benefit can come from it? Why would God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, counsel us to fear Him?

Our God is a God of love, mercy and righteousness. He is all-knowing, longsuffering and of great goodness. We know He loves us (the Bible tells us so) and desires that we, in spite of our sinful, disobedient nature,  be reconciled to Him. That is why He sent His Son to be the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. He paid our fine so our sins could be wiped off the slate. So any fear we have must be tempered with an acknowledgement of and reciprocation of God’s love and mercy for us. So perhaps fear may produce some good fruits. What does the Bible tell us?

To fear the LORD is to hate evil. (Proverbs 8:13)

We are told here that fear of the Lord spurs us to hate evil. What is evil? Evil is that which is in opposition to God; in a word, sin. So by fearing the Lord we can oppose sin, and be bold to rebuke the instigator of lies and sin in the world, Satan. By hating evil and sin, we distance ourselves from our old sinful man and produce fruit as a new creation in Christ, thereby giving glory to God.

The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

Through fear of the Lord, we are humbled, precisely because our wretched condition makes us acutely aware how small and insignificant and unholy we are when in God’s presence(which is everywhere at all times). As we shrink in the presence of the Lord, our fear of God becomes total awe, an awe of wonder at how good, how loving, how holy is our God. We are overwhelmed by His glory, especially in light of how unlike Him we actually are, despite being created in His image. How far we have fallen and still fall short of the glory of God!  Our humility then demands that we acknowledge our lowly position relative to God and place  Him ahead of everything–especially ourselves! God, the Father of lights, from whom comes every good gift and every perfect gift, becomes our first focus, the first light of our lives to whom we give all honor and glory. That means we take a second (and lowly) place,  disdaining any honor for ourselves. Our proper humility is  expressed in everything we are and all we do. For every work we may accomplish is but the action of God, working in us through the Holy Spirit. We can take  no credit for our “achievements,” whether they be works of virtue, or the expression of spiritual gifts. We are wise to recognize our proper position before God.

The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11)

There are two key points contained in this psalm verse. First, it is pleasing to the Lord that we fear Him. Why? Because the result of that fear is that we put all our trust in God. We trust that His love is as He says it is, unfailing. The real fear, then, is that if we do not put our trust in the Lord, and lay everything in our lives at His feet, we are left to our own devices, our own plans, our own self-help manuals, or seven steps to success books. Without the Lord in control, we indeed have much to fear–from ourselves and from living our lives apart from the Lord. Fearing the Lord’s absence in our life is cause for true terror. But we have the promise of God’s unfailing love, a love not fickle and changing like human love, but a divine love that is beyond our comprehension, immutable, and unending.

Fear of the Lord is to our benefit. It leads us to obey our Lord and His commandments. It allows us to give God His proper glory and worship. It places us in our proper position of servant –slave to  a kind and benevolent and merciful Lord. Once this relationship between God and us is firmly defined and established, we can begin to appreciate and enjoy God’s unending love for us, and seek to return that love through our entire being. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!

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Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 3:32 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Wonderful!

    I always think of the “fear” as being “reverance”, as in Psalm 33:1-9.

    Psalm 33
    1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

    2 Praise the LORD with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

    3 Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

    4 For the word of the LORD is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.

    5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

    6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

    7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars [a] ;
    he puts the deep into storehouses.

    8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;
    let all the people of the world revere him.

    9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

    However, I think you’re right that it’s so much deeper than just reverence.

    I think it’s so beautiful that we are to both “fear” Him and “take refuge” in Him. It seems impossible to take refuge in that which you fear, but therein is the goodness of God.

    Psalm 31:19
    How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.

  2. I meant to spell “reverence” – with an “e” not an “a”.

    ::hangs head in shame::


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