Growing up, I feared my dad. He was a force to be reckoned with in our household: always decisive, always clear in his expectations, and always honest, mostly what some would consider brutally honest. However, on the very same token, with the one emotion of fear I had of him, not once did I fear that he didn’t love me; he never threatened to leave me, never held back his overall motivation in love during disciplinary actions, and never had me questioning whether our relationship wasn’t genuinely guided by the bond of a dad and his daughter that wouldn’t break. This relational reality that I experienced has, in my opinion, greatly increased my understanding of how a fear of someone can be healthy and helpful, even though the instinctual reaction to hearing that we are to fear something is one of being scared, afraid, or threatened. Confusion abounds when we attempt to reconcile how fear and love can co-exist, but just as Jesus can perfectly balance grace and truth, God also perfectly demands our fear of Him and love for Him, simultaneously. The dad that God gave me has been beneficial in offering just the least bit of insight as to how these two can live and work within the same personal relationship. All fearful and loving Dads aside, it is supremely more important to consider how to approach fearing God as we participate in relationship with Him.
The fear of God saturates Scripture. There isn’t an iota of doubt that we are to fear Him. What exactly this means still escapes me, but it’s something I explore regularly in my daily attempts to honor Him and, by His repetitive prompting throughout the Bible, fear Him. Are we supposed to be scared of God? Should we be afraid of Him? And how could that even look to fear the One we’re also to love? These words conjure up emotions, emotions which each of us, as individuals, have a different definition for. So, as to avoid the rampant relativism that Christianity ought not embrace, let’s return to Scripture for insight as to what It says “the fear of God” is exactly.
Closely associated with the fear of the Lord, according to the Bible, is wisdom. Perhaps our answers are as simple as that. We must acquire wisdom before we can properly fear God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10). This verse implies that we can begin to become wise as we develop our fear of Him. Even as the concept of fear may be clouded in our mortal minds, the idea of what wisdom entails is more easily grasped. We want wisdom, or we should, at least, be eager to grow in it as we age. God hit the replay button in my mind back when I read in Job 28:28, “And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord–that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'” I want to be ever increasing in my understanding of what it is to fear God and, as my search continues, I’m leaning towards assigning the definition of it as Job recorded – it is wisdom.
True wisdom cannot be had aside from this fear of God. Wisdom and fear aren’t any more separate than fear and love, grace and truth, mercy and wrath, justice and righteousness, when God is being explained or defined according to His Word. He encompasses them all, concurrently and flawlessly. We don’t. But, we can expect to if we’re able to draw lines between the meaning of them as He so defines. God is connecting these two, fear of Him and wisdom, in the book of Job and Psalms. He persists in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline,” and Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” He’s hammering this into us, all with the inclusion of understanding and knowledge sitting beside this wisdom that is the fear of Him.
As this exploration took root this time around for me, I ended up in James. More often than not, we desperately ask God for wisdom in navigating our life down here. This is a common prayer request for some. “God, give me wisdom to discern, to proceed down the right(eous) path.” God gives us this promise in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (emphasis mine). That is a guarantee, one request that God swears to give. However, now with the fresh knowledge that wisdom is defined as the fear of the Lord, it may be safe to assume that this guarantee is actually given to us as we seek, not our understanding of wisdom, but the desire to deepen our fear of God. So perhaps, as we come to God and ask for this wisdom that He promises to give us, we ought to be wide-eyed and open-eared to receive an increased fear of Him. That’ll bring different results for each person, each prayer, and each situation; but if we’re aligning the two, that wisdom is the fear of God, our expectations may not be met as we think they ought to be. In that, and every, case…allow the fear of the Lord to prevail. He promises He’ll give it when we ask; it’d be foolish to disregard His gift.