Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Fear of the Lord

I got a baby shower invitation recently. I love babies and baby showers, but something in the invitation struck me strangely. In a little insert, it says that after the present opening “we will have a time when each shower attendee is welcome to express a prayer over the mother-to-be. (Family member/hostess) will open this time with a word from Scripture and then the baby and family are covered with prayers regarding the parents raising the child in the fear of the Lord…” 

Huh? Fear of the Lord? I’m a pastor and this is not a term I am overly familiar with. And it didn’t really sound like something I would pray for an infant. I’m probably an overly practical or idealistic pray-er – either it’s “Dear God, please don’t let my baby die in the night from SIDS” or “Dear God, I wish so many children in this world were not hungry.” And that word fear struck me so negatively. So, like a good theologian, I decided to dig in and see from whence my discomfort came and how this term is really used in Scripture. 

So, here goes. First, I read up on things you should not fear. This is no deep research, just a cursory glance, but here are some highlights of things not to fear:
  •  “See, the Lord your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deut 1:21
  • “Do not fear him, for I have handed him over to you, along with his people and his land.” – Deut 3:2
  • “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” – Deut 31:6
  • “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?” – Psalm 27:1
  • “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.”  - Zephaniah 3:15
Ok, so now I know what we are not supposed to fear. So what is the fear of the Lord? According to another cursory research project, it is:
  • Keeping God’s laws, decrees, statutes, and commandments (Deut 6:2, 17:19; Proverbs 24:21)
  • What God requires of God’s people, along with loving and serving God (Deut 10:12)
  • Wisdom (Job 28:28, Proverbs 15:33)
  • The beginning of wisdom/knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 1:29, 2:5, 9:10)
  • Pure, enduring forever (Psalm 19:9)
  • A demarcation of God’s people, so that we might praise, glorify, and stand in awe of God (Psalm 22:23)
  • A cause for friendship with God; God will make God’s covenant known to these friends (Psalm 25:14)
  • Something all the earth and all inhabitants of the world should do (Psalm 33:8)
  • “Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” – Psalm 33:18
  • “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” – Psalm 34:7
  • Something to teach children (Psalm 34:11)
  • The hatred or avoidance of evil (Proverbs 8:13, 16:6)
  • Life, in which we can rest secure, find refuge, suffer no harm (Proverbs 10:27, 14:26-27, 19:23, 29:25)
  • Better than great treasure and trouble with it (Proverbs 15:16)
  • Rewarded with riches and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4)
  • Regarding God as holy (Isaiah 8:13)
  • Zion’s treasure – stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge (Isaiah 33:6)
  • “Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them?” – Jeremiah 26:19
  • Lack thereof is a cause for judgment - along with adulterers, false swearing, oppressing hired workers, widows, or orphans, or thrusting aside the alien (Malachi 3:5)
  • A cause for church growth, accompanied by the comfort of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31)
  • Motivation for trying to persuade others of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:11)
Then, just yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop by Dr. Alyce McKenzie entitled “What Kind of Fool Are You? Preaching and Teaching the Folly (and Wisdom) of the Bible). She outlined a pneumonic device to remember “Wisdom’s Golden Nuggets” as follows:
     F – the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
     O – Wisdom leads to an Order of life
     G – Wisdom is a Gift from God.

She used Bob Dylan’s song, “Gotta Serve Somebody” to say:
You’re gonna have to fear somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to fear somebody

So, I’m finding that “fear of the Lord” may be an odd phrase to my postmodern ears. I don’t want to have to be afraid of anyone or anything, although I often am. The news is full of things I should fear – west nile virus, gun violence, internet hackers, politicians, etc. But, Scripture is telling me that the only entity I should fear is God. And that fear looks more like reverence, awe, and wonder, although, should I ever be in the full presence of God, I’m sure there would be some knee-knocking trembling, too.

If I fear God, I have no cause to fear anything else. It doesn’t promise an easy life, but it recognizes the true order of things. God is sovereign; God is the beginning and end of all things. When I fear the other stuff, I give it power in my life. And only God should have that kind of power because God is always speaking life and love into our existence.

So, I may not embrace the language, but I can embrace the concept. I want to walk in the wisdom of God, and this appears to be the starting line.

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