We all have an understanding of what fear is. If I asked each person reading this what they pictured when they heard the word "fear," every person would have something instantly pop into their mind—some thing, some place, some time, someone. We've all felt fear. It’s a concept we learn as little children and don't need to be taught.
The fears we grew up with can be broken into two categories: things known and things unknown. We may fear the dark tunnel because of the unknown, the not seeing or knowing if there's a light at the other end. We may fear the dentist because memories of a past experience remind us of the pain we once felt. Fear is scary, so why does the Bible say to "fear God"? And what does fear have to do with wisdom?
When you first hear that the Bible commands us to fear God, it may sound really weird! Fear is a negative thing, right? Why would God be associated with a negative thing? God is good! Why should we fear Him?
Fear, when associated with our posture toward God, does not have the same meaning we generally use in our day to day lives. Biblically, fear of the Lord is not being "scared of the Lord." Rather "fear of the Lord" is a much more layered and complex concept—and not as negative as one might think.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment here to acknowledge the fact that some spiritual leaders teach that we should fear God in the sense of being afraid of Him. They imply that we shouldn't get too close or too comfortable—because we may mess up and He'll see us mess up and punish us.
If you're someone who's been taught that "fear of the Lord" means being scared or afraid of Him, please know this: God already sees you. He's seen how you have messed up and will mess up in the future. And He's already decided that YOU ARE WORTH IT. You are worth the sacrifice of His Son's life so that YOU (despite your mistakes) can be with Him for all eternity (John 3:16).
Proverbs really wants us to understand that this “fear of the Lord” is tied directly into wisdom and knowledge. Let’s look at some verses from the Bible:“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” —Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” —Proverbs 1:7
The author of Proverbs is showing us what deep reverence looks like. Reverence is very closely related to having a deep respect, admiration, and even cherishing the object of one's reverence. Reverence is the most profound respect a person could have for another; which Proverbs drives home by using the more serious word: fear.
But this isn't about being "scared" of the Lord. It's about being wise and understanding about God's position and holding Him in such high esteem that we tremble at His magnificent glory, awestruck by His power (Deuteronomy 10:12, 20-21; Revelation 11:17; Hosea 12:5).
Let me put it this way: Have you ever seen the ocean? Do you remember the first time you laid eyes on it? I remember my first experience. I stood at the shore and let the biting cold water touch my toes. I could feel the power. Yet even if I learned every shred of knowledge available about the ocean, that would make me no less reverential about its awesome power and beauty.
No wise person will ever say, "Now that you know all about the ocean, there's no need to respect it." Perhaps there's no longer need to be scared of the ocean, but we must still respect its power. Ignoring the devastating might of the ocean is foolish. Fearing the Lord is like this.
Fear the Lord is having the wisdom to know that God is so much bigger, so much more powerful, so much more all-encompassing than you can ever imagine—yet also knowing you can still approach Him (Romans 1:21-22).
Yes, this is where our ocean analogy falls apart. The ocean may turn on you in the blink of an eye; it doesn't care about you. But God will never turn on you; He loves you more than you could possibly fathom (Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5). He has called you to Him, and, as believers, we are now adopted sons and daughters of God (John 1:12).
To fear God is to live in complete understanding of who He is—a glorious, powerful, loving being, who is worthy of our reverence, respect, and worship—and then live our lives to the best of our ability in light of that understanding (Proverbs 3:13; 16:16; James 3:17; Proverbs 13:20). Without God's wisdom, we often make foolish decisions (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 139:1-4).
God cannot be tamed, and He is not a docile being (Revelation 4:11; Job 42:1-2). God is a holy God, which means He cannot abide sin. Sin goes against His nature. Which is why we need Christ to die for us and take that punishment, and why God helps us to live our best possible lives (John 10:10; Hebrews 12:5-11; Psalm 2:11; 107:15).
“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” —Hebrews 12:28-29
ALSO SEE: What is the fear of God?
Scripture isn't telling us to be afraid of God, like you would be afraid of heights or a mean teacher. We are to respect God, be awed by His power and glory, and live in reverence for Him. To fear God in this way is wise! God is unchanging and more powerful than we could ever fathom, yet we can still approach Him because He loves us. As believers, we are to live wisely, in the understanding and reverence of God’s magnificent, powerful nature, and do our best to live according to His will.
Heidi Joelle spends her days staring at paperwork and making sure it is where it is supposed to be, how it is supposed to be, when it is supposed to be. And then she comes home and makes sure the porky little dog isn't eating a trashcan. Between these two events, she tries to learn and see as much of the world around her as possible.