Yesterday we began a sermon series from the book of Proverbs and as our pastor shared about wisdom, he spoke of the expression “fear of the Lord” and how often it is used and how easily it can be misunderstood.
Fear is not an emotion we longingly seek out. It is not a feeling we hope to associate with a good and loving God. And it is confusing when we have read:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear,
because fear involves torment.
But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
We love Him because He first loved us.1 John 4: 18-19 NKJV
For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1: 7 NKJV
How do we reconcile the “fear of the Lord” with these obvious references to His perfect love casting out all fear?
The answer lies in our understanding of this word fear and its multiple meanings.
Terror and dread is a fear that paralyzes us and makes us cower.
But terror and dread can also be mingled with awe and wonder as a fear that humbles us and brings us to our knees in worship. Perfect love is what we understand to be the character of God and so we are struck with awe and reverence, even as we grapple with the mercy and grace extended to us.
In his sermon, our pastor shared some insights from Timothy Keller about how the “Fear of the Lord” is a response to the awesomeness of who He is.
As I listened to these explanations I was once again reminded of approaching the edge of the Grand Canyon.
The expanse and depth of this enormous piece of planet earth evoked in me an awe that was so expansive it was like fear and yet it was a respectful fear. I didn’t want to run away, but I also didn’t want to foolishly rush forward. I could only stand and attempt to take it in.
I am terrified of heights and yet I knew the one mile drop off was not there to harm me. If I respected my own human limitations, I could simply stand and attempt to absorb the grandeur of it all.
Given guidance, I might find a trail that would allow me to pass down some into the depths, perhaps even exploring the very bottom area.
But only a small portion.
Because it extends for miles and the expanse of it can only be seen in sections.
It is impossible to even describe the wonder I felt standing there and realizing I was only seeing a tiny portion of this vast area carved out of the center of the earth.
The awe I felt was a small example of what it is to fear the Lord.
Recognizing that something is so much bigger than me and then to realize that the things, people, situations, circumstances that I am sometimes tempted to “fear”…cower before…are so much smaller than God.
And this is where wisdom starts.
Putting all the things of this earth in perspective to the God who created it..and us…and everything in time and space.
To fear nothing because I am in awe of Him.
To be filled with a wonder that overwhelms all that would overwhelm me.
I once confessed to God that it was very difficult to release our children into His hands. It was not that I didn’t trust Him, I told Him….it was that I was afraid of the space between my hand to His.
In the gentle way that He has with me, He whispered….ahhh….but I am holding YOU in my hand as you hold them in your hand…there is no space between mine and yours…imagine it.
He is surrounding us with His awesome love and we are held secure even as we are filled with awe struck wonder.
Meditating on how very big and very powerful and very merciful He is…this is the beginning of wisdom.