On June 28th, a couple months after my 8th birthday, my parents gave me my first Bible. Inscribed on the flyleaf was the reference "Proverbs 1:7." In my youthful enthusiasm, I immediately went to the verse:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.Reading this, stopped me in my tracks. I'd been taught about the love of God. Why would I fear Him? I asked my Dad "what does it mean to fear God?" (Or something reasonably close to that.) I remember his reply was that "fear" in this case didn't mean "terror" but more like "respect." I remember that the explanation didn't quite click. I understood it and filed it away, but it didn't really fit.
Over the decades since, as I've thought about, studied and prayed over this verse and others like it, I've come to a different conclusion: the "fear of the Lord" does not mean "respect God." It means to be terrified of Him.
The first definition for fear means "knowledge of imminent danger." I think this is the appropriate meaning.
God is holy and righteous. We are sinful. He is light. We are darkness. When light and dark meet, there is no fight. Dark simply vanishes. This should strike terror into our hearts.
Daniel was a prophet of God. He was part of Israel's royal house. He was captured by the Babylonians and made a servant in the foreign king's court for the rest of his life. Daniel grew up and served in an environment where those in authority had the power of life and death over him and those around him. He lived a long life, at least into his 80s, possibly longer. He had extensive first hand knowledge of the authority of the king. He also had a lifetime of serving God. He prayed daily. He interpreted dreams. He was given multiple visions. He saw angels. He had first hand experience of the miraculous. Towards the end of his life, he had a vision of the pre-incarnate Jesus. Even with this lifetime of experience, both in the natural and spiritual, when God shows up he faints in fear.
John was the beloved disciple. He leaned on Jesus at the last supper. He was one of the three closest to Jesus when He was on earth. He was one of the first leaders in the church. He wrote five books of the New Testament. He stood trial before political leaders who tried to kill him. He also lived into his 80s. Towards the end of his life he too had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in all His power. In spite of this lifetime of experience, both in the natural and spiritual, he too faints in fear when Jesus is fully revealed.
I mention these by way of example. I don't think these mighty men of God, who stood boldly before men who held their lives in their hands, fainted out of respect when God showed up.
No. They were shaken to their core. They trembled. They were terrified. If this was their response, how much more so would (or should) we do the same?
God is holy. God is righteous. We should tremble. This is where we need to start. But it's only the beginning.
God is also love. In love He has provided a way for us to be able to stand in His presence and not vanish like shadows when the light is turned on. He touched Daniel and John to give them strength to stand in His presence and receive revelation of what was on His heart. For us He has provided Jesus blood as the way for us to be cleansed of our sins. As a result, we are able to stand in His presence and receive the Holy Spirit to know what is on His heart.
A pastor named Steve Brown frequently says:
If you've stood before God and not been afraid, you've not stood before God. If you've stood before God and only been afraid, you've not stood before God.And C. S. Lewis puts it succinctly:
He's not a tame lion.To tremble in fear before God is a good thing. It comes from the knowledge that He is holy and we are common. He is mighty and we are weak. He is just and we are unjust. And it leads us to the understanding that we need salvation and the good news of the cross. Without the fear we cannot know the salvation.
Fear is where we begin.