Freedom of fear
The fear of the Lord isn’t a popular concept these days. The church has discovered the practical difficulties of attempting conversion by threat of lightning bolt. “God-fearing” preachers have induced far too much trauma attributing car wrecks and hurricanes to divine wrath. And most importantly, we’ve awoken to the fact that the God revealed in Jesus is profoundly gracious, forgiving and loving.
Nevertheless, when the Bible says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” it doesn’t mean it is a category for spiritual babies who just need to grow out of it. It means this fear is the irreducible foundation of real spiritual maturity. We can’t even begin “growing up” until it is firmly in place.
Wisdom begins when we glimpse the outer edges of this simple truth: God is God. The strength of God reveals our frailty. The light of God reveals our darkness. The purity of God reveals our contradictions. The majesty of God punctures our self-important delusions. When we gaze into what the psalmist calls “the beauty of God’s holiness” (Psalms 96:9), we tremble — not because God is issuing threats, but because that kind of beauty is its own sort of threat. Its radiance by nature exposes and dissolves all that is unworthy. It cannot help but undo us.
But we often forget that fear has a positive purpose — it’s meant to save our lives, to warn us away from serious harm. When Prov. 14:27 calls the fear of the Lord “a foundation of life” that turns us “from the snares of death,” it’s not saying this fear warns us away from God. Rather, it warns away from all in the world that would lead to our death. It saves us from the quicksand of prides, prejudices and self-indulgences that would otherwise swallow us whole. The fear of the Lord turns out to be the only thing strong enough to save us from ourselves. It is a fear that liberates us to live a broader, fuller, truer life than we could have if we remained in a world that revolved around ourselves.
The fear of the Lord is paradoxically our freedom from fear itself, because in fearing the one right thing, we stop fearing all the wrong ones. This is what Prov. 19:23 means when it says, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” This isn’t a promise that if we fear God, bad things will never happen. It is a promise that when the world is properly ordered with God at the center, we will be okay whatever comes. Ups and downs in circumstance and reputation won’t faze us too unduly, because God will still be God, exalted and glorified.
Meghan Larissa Good is pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church. She writes at MudPieGod.com where this first appeared.
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