Fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and it is mentioned many times in Holy Scripture, in both the Old and the New Testaments.
Harry Does Not Fear
My friend Harry, a decorated veteran, devoted husband and father, grandfather, and currently late-in-life learner about his faith, told me recently “I do not fear the Lord.” He went on: “Every time I hear this or hear someone refer to it, it strikes me as strange. God has always been like a friend to me, often a buddy, from the time of my first memories He has been my Father whom I cherish and respect as much as any person on earth.”
I have known Harry for some time, going back to 1972, and he is one of the few men I have known who was afraid of nothing and who fears no one. Without going into detail, I have witnessed this fearless Harry several times. Once I was there when a man loomed over Harry, yelling, screaming, threatening, almost rabid, and Harry had no emotional reaction, responding to him like you would a newborn puppy.
“How can you do that?” I asked him, not believing what I had seen and heard. Harry explained; and his explanation was the basis for his mini-story I told in the poem, “Daddy” which begins: “By ten years old, I thought ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ meant father. And ‘son’ came to mean surviving.” (at site Catholic Lane, August 23, 2015). Harry had dealt with and overcome real fear, sometimes daily, long before he was a teenager.
Fear Cannot Be Simply Being Afraid
So when Harry says, “I do not fear the Lord,” I think that perhaps he (and I) do not know what “fear of the Lord” really is. It must not be abject, simple, servile, dog-anticipating-kick type of emotion.
In proceeding to find out what this really is, assuming I have missed something, I relied on that well-known medieval exegete, Professor Inigo Montoya, and his overarching hermeneutical principle: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Spoken to Vizzini, in the movie The Princess Bride.)
One is in good company when one begins in the beginning, in company with Lewis Carroll’s king in Alice and Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning;” and Julie Andrews’s Maria in Sound of Music, “a very good place to start.” In this case, God’s word itself is a good place to begin to figure out what this fear is; for example:
“ . . .in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, [the Church] was increasing.”(Acts 9:31).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
This fear of the Lord that produces good results is not the fear of the demons who tremble when they encounter Jesus (James 2:19), nor is it the fear of the wicked, lazy servant who said to the master, “I was afraid.” (Mt 25:25).
Respect & Reverence
Both Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible that are typically translated as “fear” can have positive meanings. To respect or to reverence are correct translations of the Hebrew verb yare, and the Hebrew noun yirah can mean a fear of God that is a positive quality. Such a fear: recognizes God’s good intentions (Ex. 20:20); is the result of learning and heeding God’s Word (Ps. 119:38; Prov. 2:5); and leads one to wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10).
The Greek noun phobos, often translated as “fear,” can mean reverence for God, which can help one try not to displease Him. In this way fear of the Lord, properly understood and acted on, can bring about change in our lives; and the point of the change is that, since we are henceforth eternal, our lives will go on now, from the present moment, to forever. What we do in this life, because of our fear of the Lord, will affect how we spend eternity. As Proverbs says: “Do not let your heart envy sinners but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:17-18).
Harry Does Fear the Lord
So it looks like Harry actually lives, and continues to live, in the true “fear of the Lord” without being afraid of God. For Harry and any of us, when we get the message that He’s God and we are not, and then reverence Him as He deserves, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; he will not be visited with evil.” (Proverbs 19:23).