The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Wait. What?! The Bible says FEAR is a good thing?! Hmm, something seems wrong here. As we all know in our sophisticated, scientific, therapeutic modern culture, fear is a terrible thing. It’s almost as bad as guilt or shame, or the worst thing of all, that hateful and intolerant concept foisted on us by patriarchal oppressors: sin.
How can we possibly say that fear is good? The very thought is making me quite uncomfortable. I need to flee to a “safe space.” Why didn’t someone issue a “trigger warning” before mentioning such an unpleasant idea? It’s time to make some posters, block rush-hour traffic, and issues demands to the university administration. Oh wait. For a minute there I thought I was a student at Yale. Never mind.
Anyway, it is a bit confusing that the Bible teaches the fear of the Lord is not only a good thing, but “the beginning of wisdom.”
As a different messiah once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (Messiah? Well, if I remember correctly from my youth, a lot of my aunts and uncles and other WWII-era folks pretty much worshipped the man.)
We have to dig a little deeper to uncover the true meaning of that biblical pronouncement. Nowadays the word “fear” usually means terrified, panic-stricken, or filled with anxiety. And certainly those emotions are not good, especially since they are the exact opposite of what the Lord promises to give us: peace and joy.
But there is another slightly different definition of the word fear: awe and reverence.
When the Bible says “the fear of the Lord,” it doesn’t mean we’re terrified, cowering in the corner like a frightened puppy that gets beaten regularly by an abusive owner. No, it simply means we are awestruck by the power and majesty of the Lord and are reverent toward Him.
On the other hand, as I once heard a radio preacher say: “If you’ve stood before the Lord God and not trembled, then you’ve really never stood before the Lord God.”
It’s kind of like Aslan, the lion in C.S. Lewis’ children’s books, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Lewis, who was a brilliant Christian author during the mid-1900s, infused much religious imagery in the Narnia books. Aslan the lion represents Christ. After hearing about Aslan, one of the children asks, “Is he safe?” And the reply is, “No. But he’s good.”
When we approach Jesus, we ask ourselves, “Is He safe?” The answer is no. He requires us to love our enemies and to renounce all we own for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. But He is good. He loves us more than we can ever comprehend, and He desperately wants us to be with Him forever in Heaven.
Our proper response, the true “fear” of the Lord, is to draw near God with awe and wonder (and maybe a little trembling). He is, after all, the Creator of the Universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He also is all-loving and all-merciful, which is the key that allows us to be filled with awe, rather than be terrified and cowering in the corner.
Knowledge is having an understanding of what is true. But many people with knowledge do a lot of dumb things. Wisdom is knowing what is true, and then making the right decisions based on that truth.
Here is the truth: God is God, and we’re not. Making decisions based on that truth is wisdom. It all begins with being awestruck by the power and majesty of the Lord. And it is so wonderful, it does not require a trigger warning or a safe space.