The Fear of the LORD

If you can look at the Grand Canyon and call it just a hole in the ground, you will not understand the wonder and power of experiencing it.

If you can listen to a superb singer and think of it as only noise, then you will not appreciate the wonder and power of it.

When you have no experience of great and awesome things, or worse you have experienced them but not appreciated them, then you will not gain the wisdom of God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” does not mean that we tremble with dread. The root of the word (whether in Hebrew, Greek or English) that we translate as fear comes from the idea of experiencing something and appreciating the awe of it. It is neutral in the sense that the awe may be a profound wonder, terror or appreciation.

We can look at the sky at night (better if it is in the wilderness away from light pollution) and be in awe of the many stars. Our wonder increases when we know that what we see is a universe so vast that the light from the stars took many years to reach us. We experience this, we don’t just think about it. It makes us feel in ways that are hard to describe. If we can open ourselves up to those feelings evoked by the experience, what we feel becomes a better analogy for what the writer means by “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”.

To truly appreciate some things, you have to experience them with the openness of heart and mind that sets aside defenses, distractions and diminishing tendencies that we have when we don’t want to be changed. You let the power of the Spirit wash over you. You stand vulnerable, malleable. Then you can sense the profound nature of life and love and the source of both life and love. You gain wisdom because rather than deny the awesome nature of God, you gain in your understanding of God and build your life, your heart and mind, your hopes and dreams, your purpose upon that new experience.

I wish we could retranslate “the fear of the Lord” because it creates a terribly skewed idea of what it means to experience the fullness of God. When we have a greater experience of God it is an experience of profound peace, great joy and an all-encompassing love.