Many years ago, in a random conversation with my dad about things religious, the phrase “The fear of the Lord” came up. And I distinctly remember my dad saying, “I’m not afraid of God. I think he’s good. I’m anxious to meet him.” My dad has long since passed, and I’m sure by now he’s had the chance to meet the Good Lord whom he didn’t fear.
I suspect that my dad’s approach to “the fear of the Lord” is fairly common among Catholics. But it’s good that we talk about it because, according to one count, the Bible uses the phrase “the fear of the Lord” or “the fear of God” over three hundred times. “The fear of the Lord” is also one of the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit we talk about, especially in celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, for example.
Catholic commentator, Father Hugh Barbour, O. Praem, says: “The fear of the Lord perfects our hope of remaining in God’s grace and someday being with him in the happiness of heaven. This means that this fear is caused by love. We have a reverent fear and awe of him because he is so beautiful and great and powerful . . . The fear of the Lord is a source of great peace and happiness; it is thus very different from worldly fears of suffering or punishment.”
Father Hugh speaks of “reverent fear,” and I think that’s the key. Fear of the Lord is all about reverence and respect, and they are virtues, “I fear” have been lost in our society and even the church, today.
Think about it. Do we have respect and reverence for God: when we ignore him in our daily lives and so casually displace him from society and culture? When we disregard the commandments he has given us? When we destroy the innocent unborn children who share his image and likeness? When we, in casual conversations or angry confrontations, take his holy name in vain? When we don’t bother to set aside even one hour each week to attend church and worship him, and thank him? And when we’re in the sacred space of the church, we fail to recognize and respect his holy, awesome presence among us.
The “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Scripture teaches us. (Ps 111:10) And it’s true – righteous fear, respect and reverence for God leads to true wisdom, to a life well-lived, and to eternal life in heaven.
Something to think about: What is your primary emotion when you think about God?
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