This much-quoted Biblical phrase, from Proverbs 9:10, is often stated to imply that the fear of the Lord is something we should always know, in our dealings with God – that if we lose fear, we are on dangerous ground; that God cannot be resisted or argued with, because of his might; that even when we know the friendship of the Divine, we should step back and remember fear, to keep ourselves balanced.
I’m going to argue a different view – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but not its end.
What is the fear of the Lord?
The fear of the Lord is a basic acknowledgement of the difference between God and us – he is Almighty, while we are limited in power; he is immortal, but our flesh will die; he is all-knowing, while human perspective is limited. In other words, God is God, and we are not.
This fundamental acknowledgement of the way things are is the beginning of our response to God, who in terms of ability is infinitely above us. The fact of the matter is that God so exceeds us in power, that if he chose to make our lives unbearable, we would have no ability to deny him, or even voice to complain. If God were a cruel, self-important despot, the lives of his creations would be unrelentingly miserable.
It is healthy to dwell on this, from time to time, as a point of context.
Perfect love casts out fear
Believers understand, to varying degrees, that God is Love. Jesus is not just our Lord; he is the very best kind of friend. John 15:15,
‘No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.’
The equality offered to us by God is unfathomably generous, and a privilege of the highest order. To grasp it, and be appropriately grateful for it, we need to see it in context – that God chose to do things this way, and our privilege flows from his essential goodness. The truth would have been otherwise, if God were not Love. It is our revelation of divine love, then, that moves us on from fear.
God chose to elevate us from the start
This is the beginning of wisdom – the acknowledgement that God is God, and we are not. We must recognise our place in the grand scheme of things, before embracing our privilege. That privilege, however, is extraordinary. Psalm 8:3-6,
‘When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet.’
As this Psalm touches on, God has chosen to honour and elevate us by a crucial choice – to make us in his image. He could have created us to be more like animals, without conscious choice and driven by instinct, or like the angels, lofty beings who are unable to grasp the earthier, divine mysteries of incarnation that humans are privy to.
God chose to put his image in us, to craft us after himself. We are therefore an echo of the Divine, blessed with creativity, high consciousness, a wide array of emotions, and infinite spiritual capabilities. Even in our fallen state, we are impressive.
He elevated us again at the cross
The second great elevation of humanity, which again God chose, was to die for us. The book of Revelation says that Christ was slain before the foundation of the world. What can we take from this? God understood from the outset that by creating us with free will, and a nature shaped after his own, we were always going to fall – an inevitability for which he would provide a way out. Thus God consciously chose the cross at the same moment he decided on the nature of humanity.
I know some who struggle with the need for the cross in salvation, but God is God, and we are not. I accept it. I’m grateful for it. I visit the cross every day. It was the loving choice of a creator God to share something of his nature with his creation. We are his most ambitious plan, his most costly investment, and none of us truly know how deeply he treasures us.
Fear of the Lord, then, is only the beginning of wisdom, because it recognises the might of God without grasping his generosity and mercy. Nor does it perceive his creative ambition.
Jesus reveals the nature of God
It is in Jesus that we truly see the heart of God. John 14:9b-14,
‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’
These heartfelt words of Jesus, spoken just prior to his death, show us first of all the extent of God’s compassion. The loving nature of Jesus, as see throughout his ministry – his refusal to judge, his relieving of suffering, his kindness and acceptance of those whose lives were broken – is the very heart of who the Father is.
The glory of divine ambition!
Secondly, they show us the extent of God’s ambition for you and I. He would have us represent him on Earth, filled with his Spirit, seeing incredible answers to prayer. This was always part of God’s creative design. You and I are included in his grandest plan. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, believers became his hands and feet in this world.
I won’t linger on how good or bad a job we’re doing of it, as that’s not the purpose of this post, but in the words of Jesus, we can clearly see the design and intent of God. He has always intended that we not only be saved, but also co-heirs with Christ. Romans 8:17-18,
‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory…I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’
The glory that will be revealed! What wonders has God got planned for us, in eternity? 2 Corinthians 9:9b-10a,
‘No eye has seen,
No ear has heard,
No mid has conceived,
What God has prepared for those who love him.’
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but friendship, partnership and glory are its end. We do not linger in fear, any more than the sprinter waits at the starting line, after the gun has fired. In grasping the extent of his love, we say ‘yes Lord’, to his promises; and ‘thank you’, for his grace. An eternity of joy and wonder beckons.