Fear of the Lord

By Fr. Stewart Murray

This article previously appeared in Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa

Over the summer I began the task that I had long delayed of going through my books and making the hard decisions about what to keep and give away. As many of you know, such a task often takes much longer than planned. This can happen when you pick up a particular book and then begin to remember the people and the circumstances around which that book came into your possession. One such book for me was the first bible commentary that I was given back in high school; it had been inscribed with these words from the Book of Job " Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." (Job 28:28). Rereading the inscription prompted me to ask what does it mean to fear the Lord?

At first the idea of being in fear of God seems to contradict the reality of God’s love and mercy made known to us in Jesus. How could the image of the Good Shepherd inspire fear in us? On reflection I realized that it is easy to only see God in this way as I often want God to be a soft and a pliable God, one who will suit my personality and needs. The trouble with this approach is that this is not the God of the scriptures. The sacred scriptures portray a God of infinite love and mercy, who is also a "consuming fire" (Heb.12:29) and in Hebrews 1:31 we read "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Scripture also speaks of a God who calls us to holiness "Be ye holy; for I am holy." (I Pet.1:16). The many images of God that come from the Old and New Testament balance the idea of the love and mercy of God with a God who asks much of His beloved people. Fear of God is not just about awe and wonder in the light of the majesty and beauty of God, but is about a deep awareness that our lives now and for eternity are in His hands.

God has such a deep love for each of us that He desires that in response to His love, we turn away from sin and live a life shaped by the Gospel. Part of the challenge is that we sometimes fear the judgement of the world, of our peers and family, when the Gospel values are at odds with the passing values of the day. A simple example of this conflict can be the times when family or community activities are on Sunday mornings and one declines to come until after Church. One can face real criticism and judgement. On larger questions in our society touching on issues of racism and refugees, end of life care, of poverty and justice we often stay silent and submit to the values of the world. I know I have tried to tell myself in these situations that God will understand and forgive my silence, but in my heart I know that I have betrayed His love.

God’s love will never fail us. We, however, are creatures with freewill and we can choose to follow the world, seek its approval and turn away from His love. We can forget that the promise of eternal life is a gift of God to those who love and follow after him. I need to remember this truth when faced with the judgement of the world, and remember the words of Scripture “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36) I am reminded and am grateful that so often we face these questions, not on our own, but with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Our parish communities are where together we can struggle with the difficult questions and together discover the wisdom and love of Christ.