The Fear of the Lord

There’s a fascinating concept in traditional Quaker lore that described the work of the Holy Spirit.  It speaks of the Spirits ‘Terror and Power’.  When, as Jesus promised, Christ’s Spirit invades a person’s life the first thing to happen is the Spirit, like it has a white glove and a flashlight, begins to search our interior life and showing us the filth and trash we’ve collected there.  It’s clearly a fearful time because we already know that God requires more of us than we are ready to offer.  The good news is that it is not in our own power but that of the Spirit that enables us to make the changes necessary.

 

The Fear of the Lord:

There’s really no disputing the fact that fear drives a lot of things that impact our lives. We are already into a Presidential election and what we hear from candidates is primarily designed to stir fear.  We actually hear some of that in our city election.  Global economic markets are fearful about decisions being made about Greece.  People fear rogue Police officers and Police officers are fearful for their own lives. We are told to fear immigrants from Mexico. We are told to fear home grown terrorists every bit as much as those from abroad.  And many live in fear of government.

Proverbs are pretty easy to overlook.  They aren’t all that exciting. But in the first one, Proverbs 1:1-7 this is what we read: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young—let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. And then it says:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

I’ve been guilty of explaining “the fear of the Lord”  as something a kin to respect or reverence. It’s a pretty common perspective among the ‘nice’ churches where the notion is that God is love and why would you fear love?  What I’ve read recently abused me of that notion.  The Hebrew won’t let me get away with that. In direct reference to God the Bible uses the word fear at least 300 times and believe me it’s not about simple respect. We can’t get away with downplaying it.

The Bible is full of examples of how fearing God is a positive rather than a negative thing. For example  Joseph wins his brothers’ trust when he declares that he is a God-fearing man. Moses survived because the midwives feared God that they obeyed him instead of the authorities by sparing the Hebrew babies . Pharaoh brought disaster on his own nation because he did not fear God.  Moses chose leaders to help him on the basis that they feared God and wouldn’t take bribes (maybe we could use leaders like that!) Moses told the people that God met with them in a terrifying display of his power so that they wouldn’t sin. The Mosaic Law cites fear of God as a reason to treat the disabled and elderly well. And this is not just an Old Testament idea.  Jesus states this stronger than anyone when he says, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell”. And Paul advises us to work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

So it’s clear from these passages, that fearing God is a good thing because it saves us from caving into the wrong thing.

That’s why learning that someone is God-fearing actually makes us trust that person more. If they fear God, they are more likely to keep their word and treat others with kindness. In Romans 3 we learn that our chief sin is that we “have no fear of God at all”. The subject becomes even more mysterious when we read 1John 4:18 that says that “perfect love expels all fear.” So how do we marry this contradiction? How can we fear God while God expels all fear?

When you read the Prophets the idea of fearing the Lord has teeth.  The Prophets are instructed to tell the leaders of Israel and Judah that failure to keep the humane elements of the covenant that treats everyone in the family equally destruction will surely follow.

Amos 5:6 Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground! The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name, who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress. They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

Their leaders said – ‘naw, God loves us. We are special.  He let’s us get away with murder’ .  After ignoring warning after warning nations less righteous and more evil than Israel and Judah came and destroyed everything they had built and carried away those with wealth, education or power into captivity. They did not fear God enough to fulfill their obligations stated in their covenants.

William D. Eisenhower put it this way in his article ‘Fearing God” in Christianity Today: “Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.”

It’s a standard plot line in action movies when a good guy is holding a gun on a criminal and demanding that the bad guy reveal the person he’s working for .  “No, I can’t tell  you. He’ll kill me”  There it is.  Fearing the wrong party. Fearing the wrong thing.

There’s a fascinating concept in traditional Quaker lore that described the work of the Holy Spirit.  It speaks of the Spirits ‘Terror and Power’.  When, as Jesus promised, Christ’s Spirit invades a person’s life the first thing to happen is the Spirit, like it has a white glove and a flashlight, begins to search our interior life and showing us the filth and trash we’ve collected there.  It’s clearly a fearful time because we already know that God requires more of us than we are ready to offer.  The good news is that it is not in our own power but that of the Spirit that enables us to make the changes necessary.

And, of course, the ultimate example of fear and perfect love working together is Jesus Christ. He warned us at every turn to fear God, not men—and he confirmed that in everything about his life and death. He spoke lovingly but frankly to all and didn’t mince words when people needed to face their brokenness and find new directions for their life. But he also demonstrated love beyond human understanding when he lived out his words, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” With love like that, what is left to fear but God?

 

 

 

 

 

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