A Strange Contradiction


Fear of the Lord. That phrase, on the surface, seems strange to us. It feels contradictory. There may be a reasonable explanation for that in the sense that we understand fear only as an emotion, and a negative emotion at that. But when we see this phrase in the scriptures we understand that we are dealing with God’s wisdom, not merely human emotions.

What is fear of the Lord? The scriptures never fail to enlighten us on matters such as this. For example, Isaiah 11:2-3 enumerates the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. What? Fear is a gift? We most often think of fear as the opposite of hope, but fear of the Lord confirms the theological virtue of hope. It gives us the desire not to offend God or his obvious love for us. It is also a recognition that he will never fail to give us the grace we need to keep from offending him. As followers of Christ, we do not fear God out of a sense of duty. Rather our fear of the Lord arises out of our love of the Lord. Just as we should fear offending our parents, our loved ones, or our friends because we love and respect them deeply and would not want to do them harm in any way, our fear of the Lord is rooted in our love and respect for him as well as our profound trust in him.

Our fear of the Lord is not a servile fear of an arbitrary and unjust master. Rather, it is a son’s or daughter’s response to the caring love of the parent. Our fear of the Lord is not a fear of punishment, but a soul-deep fear of being found guilty of having done something that might offend the Father’s perfect love and mercy toward us. Scripture tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) This is so because it is one of the virtuous foundations of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our fear of the Lord is an innate desire to honor God’s wisdom, kindness and love toward us. Just as we wish to honor our loving parents by living in accord with their wishes for us, we desire to honor God’s gifts of life and faith to us by living our lives in accord with his Fatherly wisdom.

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It is this “fear of the Lord [that] adds length to our lives.” If we were merely living in fear of a God of punishment all of our lives, we would succumb in time to the ravages of that emotion on our body and mind. We would be hypertensive, our stomachs would be ulcerated, and our minds filled with paranoia. The second clause in Proverbs 10:27 says, “…but the years of the wicked are cut short.” Irrational, emotional fears, or the guilty fears that arise in the hearts of the wicked, cabin, crib and confine them. The fear of the Lord, as understood by the faithful follower of Jesus Christ is a matter purely and solely of love. It is this fear of the Lord that paradoxically liberates us and empowers us to love all others and all of God’s creation willingly and faithfully. It strengthens us to do as Jesus did, honoring the Father.

Holy Spirit fill us with your gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. In this alone will our lives be lengthened, not just in the earthly sense, but in the eternal sense. Help us to be good and trustworthy children of the Father, for we fear only the loss of his love for us. We pray earnestly in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.