“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). What does this verse mean? And why, if God is so loving and kind and compassionate, do we have to fear Him?
We often refer to godly people as god-fearing men and women, and the Bible repeatedly reminds us to fear God. In fact, the subject matter of fearing God is mentioned over 400 times throughout the Bible. However, even though fear is often perceived to have a negative connotation, the fear of the Lord is one of the most positive “feelings” a Christian could have toward God.
The first thing we have to understand is that the kind of fear that we ought to have for God is not the same kind of fear we have for evil things or scary stuff. In fact, the Bible tells us time and time again to fear not, because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.
When we face challenges in life or stand up against evil, it is natural for us to feel fear. When we walk down a dark alley in the middle of the night or when we hear noises in a big old house, we become jumpy and nervous. When someone holds a knife to our throats and asks for our valuables, we freeze, try to fight back, or run away. When we get bad news from the doctors, we try to block out all the awful possibilities that could happen—and no wonder.
Because these things are frightening. They incite a fear in us that incapacitates us and causes us to want to get as far away as possible from that source of fear. And yet these are kinds of situations that God tells us not to fear, because He is with us. These are the kinds of situations where we can go running back to God to seek His comfort, His peace, and His protection.
Why then should we fear Him? If He is the one who dispels all fear, shouldn’t we feel safe with Him? Absolutely! There is nowhere in heaven or on earth that is safer than to be in God’s very presence. However, it is also the most dangerous place to be in all of heaven and earth if we do not have fear for God. Because although God’s love for us knows no bounds and although His compassions and mercies and grace are new every morning, we cannot forget that He is also all-powerful, almighty, and holy.
We tend to place so much emphasis on the soft and mushy side of God that sometimes we forget that He is the God of the Universe. He created everything from the largest galaxy to the minutest microorganism just by speaking. He spoke us into being and can wipe us out again with a single word. But most importantly, on top of all the things that He can do, we must remember who He is.
Who is God? He is the Great I AM. He is the very embodiment of perfection. He is sovereign, He is just, and He burns with wrath for anything that goes against His nature, which is sin. God is so averse toward sin that He had to cover all of us with the perfect blood of His own Son so that His anger would not burn against us every single time He looks at us.
The truth is, God is scary. His magnificence is altogether beautiful and terrifying. He is the last Person you want to mess with, and the only Person whose side you should want to be on. Matthew 10:28 tells us: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That is the God we serve. He is the Lion, ferocious and petrifying, but He is also the Lamb, gentle and kind.
When we recognize God’s holiness in contrast to our sinful nature, our response should be fear. Not out of the kind of fear that makes us want to run away in the opposite direction, but the kind of fear that brings us to our knees in reverence and awe. Knowing all that He is capable of, we can take comfort and joy that we have been given the gift of salvation which allows us to find shelter in the shadow of His wings rather than to be on the receiving end of His wrath.
Our fear for Him ought to stem from our love and respect for Him. It is the kind of fear that a child has for his father—an innocent dependence that causes us to want to please Him and not anger Him. It is a kind of fear that attracts us to Him and causes us to want to stick close to His side because we know that without Him, we are nothing.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 says: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” At the end of the day, after all has been said and done, the most important thing for us to do is to fear God, which causes us to want to keep His commandments and therefore live a godly life.
When we fear God and obey Him, we begin to see the world from His perspective. When we begin to see the world from God’s perspective, everything changes, and our very reason for living would shift from self-centered motivations to God-centered motivations. It is this reason that King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and had everything he could ask for, came to the conclusion that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
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