POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

The Long Lost Beauty of the Fear of the Lord

So much of today’s Christian world shivers to even talk of a God that one ought to fear in any way. God is recast as the cosmic genie of toleration. Even where people retain a view of God that in some way should be feared the word is usually completed reduced to only a reverent awe for a majestic King. This of course is a very good understanding for one facet of the fear of the Lord, but I fear (sorry, I couldn’t help my self) that this misses a fuller meaning of the biblical phrase. For even in the phrase “reverence and awe” there is indeed a “fear” which goes beyond mere respect and does include an aspect of terror. Beautiful, good for us, wonderful, awe inspiring, terror that does not repel, but draws us inexorably towards God for grace. The ISBE describes the range of meaning of the term fear in the Old Testament:
From this list it is apparent that the notion of fear ranges from terror, which may be evidenced by shaking or trembling, to awe or reverence, which induces love or worship rather than terror.
Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, Vol. 2, Page 289, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002.

Throughout the Old Testament the fear of the Lord is associated with many things. It means to honor God in loyalty or faithfulness, it means to respect Him and obey him and to turn away from evil. Proverbs 16:6 demonstrates this well:

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil. Proverbs 16:6

The place of understanding that God is God, and we are a needy creature is actually the starting point for all knowledge, but practical and theoretical:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Proverbs 9:10
Although not the focus of the Hebrew idea, this acknowledgement of God has great implication for philosophy. It is no coincidence in the history of ideas that when man becomes a skeptic of God, empties his metaphysical closet of the belief in God, his whole project of truth and knowledge crumble under his own pitiful hand. It is a turn in the history of philosophy that is easy to spot – skepticism about God led directly to the well where knowledge itself is poisoned, with truth floating away into the abyss of the postmodern perspectivalism. When there is not a God’s eye view; there is no knowledge. If one rejects the fear of the Lord, he becomes a fool. The fear of God, living in reverence for him, and in a creaturely posture of humility has many promises associated with it. First, God’s covenant love (hesed) is firmly established with those who fear him. The greatest good for the people of God is to worship and love their God. One does not do this with the clinched fist of pride and arrogance, but rather receives it humbly on bended knee. The fear of God, leads his children to love his ways, shun evil, and receive from him a great treasure…to look upon the face of God in delight rather than expecting horrible judgment. In CS Lewis' book, the Silver Chair, Jill is stuck in a bit of a pickle. She is dying of thirst lying next to the purest, most desirable water she has ever seen. Yet, in her path is a fearful, dreadful, and beautiful Lion. Aslan, King of Narnia is before her for the first time. She comes forward slowly, even asking the question “Do you eat girls?” to which the Lion's answer is “I have eaten realms and kingdoms, boys and girls...” (loose paraphrase) If she does not come and drink she will die of thirst. If she does not come in her fear to the Lion, she will not receive the treasure she needs. Such it is with God. We need him, but we fear. We need him, but we would rather choose pride and arrogance than fear. We need him in all his terrifying glory, but we choose to re-imagine him as a small puppy on a leash to make us feel good about ourselves. Some will never come to him – others, who in fear walk towards the great Lion, will find that the awesome one, is also gracious, abounding in steadfast love, and infinitely desirable and calms our terror with arms of a Father. This morning I was reading in Hebrews 12 where I was confronted with a passage that describes in the New Testament fear of the Lord in terms of reverence and awe:
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Let us be grateful for receiving an unshakable kingdom, one where we are called together to God into an assembly of those we are enrolled in heaven, who is called the judge of all. We are called to Jesus, who is a mediator of a new covenant, one in his own blood spilled on the earth. This blood speaks – not as the blood that cried out of sin; that of Abel, but the blood that speaks a word of forgiveness and grace to sinners before a holy God. This word, the passage tells us should not be ignored, for to ignore his word, which is both a gracious offer and a terrifying warning, is to our great peril. It is so easy today for believers to waltz in and out of the presence of God as if they are going to snuggle up to their my buddy doll in big bean bag chair. We do not get this picture of God in the Scripture. Not in Hebrews, not anywhere. Yet because God is gracious and good. Because God is holy and all together a just judge. Because God punished, broke and beat down Jesus for sins that were ours and not his own. Because God reveals himself and comes to us to be marveled at, loved and adored in the gospel, we ought to worship. Our hearts are grateful for we have received a kingdom. The giver of which is one in which we should fear, but yet be drawn to in his holy beauty and our great need. When he draws us we come. And his compulsion is our liberation