Fear (Pt. 1) — The Beginning of Wisdom is … What??

Beginnings are important. How we begin can determine whether we wander around in the wilderness for 40 years or take the direct route to the Promised Land. A good start can save us lots of backtracking, and a good foundation means that our work will have much greater longevity. So shouldn’t we build on the most sure foundation? And that foundation is the Fear of the Lord!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,                                                         But fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)

We are far too quick to dismiss or explain away ‘fear of the Lord.’ It sounds old-fashioned, and it’s not cool to preach fire and brimstone anymore. We have decided that love and gratitude should be our only motivations, leaving no room for godly fear. Never mind that there truly is a day of judgment coming and we would do well to flee from the wrath to come! (Matthew 3:7)

I remember a small group meeting where we were discussing the parable of the Prodigal Son, and someone remarked how sad it was that the son returned groveling rather than confident in his father’s love. I thought about it a little and said that I thought the son had just the right attitude and that his feeling of unworthiness was very appropriate. Stunned silence  ensued– they looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears and finally continued the discussion without comment. I had attacked a sacred cow. But I still think that the son did have faith in his father’s love and mercy. He believed that his father would receive him, but he also knew what his actions deserved and that he had no real right to expect any kindness or mercy. I still think it would have been the height of presumption to come back announcing, “I’m home!” expecting all to be forgotten.

Skipping the foundation of repentance and fear keeps us from appreciating the fullness of our heavenly Father’s love and mercy — freely given, though totally undeserved. It is only in comprehending the depth of our sin and its dire consequences that we can truly experience the forgiveness He wraps us in as we run to His arms. God would be holy and just and good if He took one look at us and pronounced judgment, consigning us to the fires of hell. This is the God we are approaching — the God who can ‘destroy both body and soul in hell.’ (Matthew 10:28) Jesus tells us to fear this One, so when we approach this God, it is better not to waltz in rejoicing with no thought for our offense against the One who created us and gave all for us. Instead, we should come as the Prodigal did, humbly taking the lowest place. And that is just the person God exalts to the highest place. (Luke 14:7-14) God humbles the high and exalts the low.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount ends with the advice to build our house on the Rock. Look to your foundation, and make sure that you do not find yourself before God hearing the horrific words “I never knew you, depart from me, all you who practice iniquity.” (Matthew 7:23) Begin with wisdom — build your house on the Rock — and let the winds blow and the rain pound. Your faith will stand, and no flood will be able to carry it away.

Author: sylvhill

I am an almost life-long Christian, wife of a PCA elder, mother of three grown boys, a teacher of ESL, and a lover of the Bible and theology as it impacts real life.

2 thoughts on “Fear (Pt. 1) — The Beginning of Wisdom is … What??”

  1. I’m not 100% sure. Either the fear referenced in “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” means *something* different from the fear referenced in “perfect love casts out fear,” or the fear of the Lord is, while the beginning of wisdom, not the foundation thereof but a phase (since perfect love casts out fear). I’d tend to lean towards the former – fear as reverence and honor – but it somehow has to work out. If Jesus longed to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chickens, the chickens don’t run in terror. (but yes, gratitude and the soft-and-squishy kind of love are not our only motivation)

    With the prodigal son, I think it’s possible to be totally confident that we will get what we don’t deserve, although I think it’s more common in expecting something negative that has not been merited; the case where we’ll be unfairly punished for something we didn’t do, due to misleading circumstantial evidence, or unfairly penalized by a work situation with a lot of favoritism in it or something. If we know we’re getting something positive we don’t deserve, we’re usually a bit better at mentally wriggling around to the position that maybe we *do* deserve it somehow. But I think the consciousness-of-not-deserving held simultaneously with the confidence-of-getting is ideal in Christian life – holding together the awareness that God is fully good and generous and also that we are not up to snuff, but he will give us good things even so. *That* attitude is not going to result in rudeness, but may result in some things that are a bit socially weird or seem to be internally in conflict, perhaps in somewhat the same way that Jesus’s prayer which cites the fact that the prayer is for the benefit of the “audience” is a bit weird – Jesus is fully confident in what God is going to do (and, unlike us, doesn’t have any undeservingness), but still has to say it out loud because of the people.

    But anyway, humility is the way to go, no matter how fear is defined or how confident we are of what God will generously and undeservedly give to us. Thank you for your writing!

    1. Thanks for reading, and sorry that it takes me awhile to respond. I think that you are right about the meaning of ‘fear’ in different contexts. In a more mature Christian, it surely would tend towards reverence and awe rather than cringing. I hope to follow up with more thoughts later, but I’m thinking that there are times for true fear and that, without the reality of judgment and punishment, we also lose ‘mercy.’ Without a sense of what we have escaped from, mercy is meaningless. More later…

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