Because someone asked me about it, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the puzzle of Fear of the Lord. As most of us probably know, Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit – the list of which can be found in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 11:2-3. At first glance, this Fear may not seem to be as sweet as the other gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Fortitude, Piety, Counsel, and Knowledge. And it may especially seem to be contradicted by Jesus’ frequent insistence that we fear not – a command that I have been told (though I have not personally counted) is given 365 times in the New Testament, once for every day of the year. So what gives? I think the key lies in recognizing just who God is.
Our Sunday scripture readings lately have resonated with God’s identity. God is the one who created the sea (simultaneously a very real source of life and a mysterious terror to the Galileans) and who can easily quiet its storms. God is the one with perfect control, perfect timing, and perfect vision. God is the one who can help us love well even when we are so very different from each other, and God is the one who can breathe abundant life into anyone – into any situation – that we truly think to be dead; He can even stop to personally grant His healing to others along the way. He is greater than our words can ever convey. This being the case, then, it is God, and God only, whom we should fear. Fear of the Lord is the gift of proper perspective, somewhat like knowing NOT to be afraid of a beetle crawling toward you when a T-Rex is gnashing his teeth behind you. Fearing anything except God – any storm, any sickness, any setback, any humiliation, any of his creatures – becomes just plain silly in the face of our growing recognition of Who God Is. What a gift it is, then, to fear ONLY God, to tremble in gratitude in the face of His infinite majesty, power, and mystery.
And then, Jesus nudges us (repeatedly), let’s also and always remember God’s deepest, highest identity: Love. It says so a few times in chapter 4 of the first letter of John, and in all the rest of Scripture too. We hear Love in Christ’s incarnation, life, death, descent, and resurrection, and in our very existence. So our fear – as right and just as it is – should only be that of a bride on her wedding night, one quick tremor before we willingly succumb to an embrace so real, powerful, beautiful, intimate, and creative that the only One we can perceive or even imagine from that vantage point is Love Himself.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Parish Catechetical Leader