The Beginning of Wisdom: Fear?

Proverbs uses one word repeatedly to describe the proper posture that a wise human being should take towards God: “fear.”

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
–Proverbs 9:10 (NLT)

As Charles Bridges observed, this is one of the classic “Christian paradoxes.  How is happiness to be found in constant fear?” The solution to this riddle lies in what we mean by the word “fear.”

flickr / thiophene_guy

flickr / thiophene_guy

The only reason that “fear of the Lord” is a troubling phrase to modern ears is that we typically use the word “fear” to mean only one thing: terror.  So when we read the phrase “fear of the Lord,” we picture someone in a constant state of dread, always expecting God to smite them down at any moment.

But that is not at all what the phrase is intended to mean.  Verse 14:26 makes this much clear when it describes the fear of God as a source of “confidence” and “security.”  Other verses throughout the Bible are similar.  Isaiah 11:2-3 (NIV), for example, prophesied that the Messiah would be blessed with “the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”  Of course, we see this prophesy fulfilled in the life of Jesus—a life of perfect love, reverence, and obedience to God’s ways.  Psalm 112:1 (NLT) sings, “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.”  This is loving devotion, in close relationship, not “fear” in the modern, colloquial sense.

Instead, “fear of the Lord . . . means neither fright nor terror, but trust and full respect for God,” according to the Cambridge Study Bible.  Other commentators call it “reverence tempered with love,” “a holy reverence of God,” and “over powering awe and wonder, combined with powerful attraction.”  It is a recognition that God is infinite, pure, holy, all-powerful, merciful—all the things that we are not.  What reaction other than awe could any rational person have to such a being?