“Come, listen my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord.”
One of the things that I found missing in the Jesus Movement decades ago was a sense of reverence, what the theologians call numinous; that the One we come to worship is not our buddy but is holy and Other. I’m not convinced that things have improved much. Some current worship songs contain such a strong overtone of romance, that the name of Jesus could be replaced by the name of a boyfriend or girlfriend and no one would be the wiser that we had just slipped from worship to a love song. To use a theological term, that gives me the creeps.
To be fair, a balanced view of the Lord contains both immanence and transcendence. We must see Him as dwelling in us and we with Him (I Jn 4:11) and at the same time see Him “high and lifted up.” (Is 6:1). But even when we hear Jesus say “I no longer call you servants but friends” (Jn 15:15) that is not an invitation to lose our reverence of Him and reverence is the type of fear that the Psalmist is calling us to learn.
There is of course a wrong placed fear. Such fear the Gospel addresses. “Perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (I Jn 4:18). Since Christ is the propitiation for our sins, we no longer need to fear punishment. Our debt has been paid. To put it in more colloquial terms, we should not be afraid of God but we should fear Him. Who He is and what He has done for us demands our love and respect, our reverence and worship, our loyalty and our obedience.
Proverbs says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov 9:10). That becomes clear when you consider the opposite is also true. To be blunt, some of the stupidest people I have ever known have been those who fear nothing, especially God. They blaspheme and live dissolute lives like there is no tomorrow, and the sad thing is that unless they repent, there will be no tomorrow for them. It takes a foolish person to fear nothing. They say the last 5 words of a fool are “Bet I can do this!”
The reason that fearing God is the beginning of wisdom is because fearing Him brings us under His authority. In doing so we accept His ways and His ways bring life to us. If our first parents had maintained their fear of the Lord mankind would have never left the Garden.
Yesterday in Ash Wednesday we were reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Being thus confronted with our mortality makes Lent a perfect season to learn to fear the Lord.