“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” occurs in many places in the Bible. Every time I hear “fear of the Lord” in a sermon, the pastor invariably points out that “fear” means awe and reverence toward God that should draw us closer to Him. It should not make us afraid.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10.


Who am I to disagree?

But I do, to some extent—theologian that I am not.

Imagine a Marine Corps Sergeant baby-sitting his two-year-old nephew. He tells the little one, in the “terrible twos” phase, that it is nap time. The little brat sticks out his tongue and says, “No. You can’t make me!” and runs off. How do you think that will end for the kid?

Sure, the nephew should be in awe of his uncle and respect him. But he doesn’t. He will soon discover that plain old fear would have saved his hide, if he were wise enough to know that.

I think Isaiah got it right. “The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear and let Him be your dread.” Chapter 8:13.

When Moses approached the burning bush, he heard God warn him, “Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground’” Exodus 3:5.

I don’t think “fire and brimstone fear mongering if you break the rules” is what Isaiah or Moses meant. However, Moses needed to remove his shoes in God’s presence because that plot of dirt was “dreadfully” holy.

There is a God, and it’s not me.

God could speak the universe into existence and simultaneously create life in intimate, cellular detail. Our scientific breakthroughs should not make us pat ourselves on the back, but drop us to our knees. That Supernatural Being should terrify us. Knees shaking, eyes wide, too- paralyzed -with- fear- to move- a- muscle, kind of fear should overwhelm us. I think that may be the first baby step to wisdom. After all, God could turn me into an oil slick with a thought.

The awe part comes in when I realize, with love and gratitude, that He won’t. I deserve it, but instead, he opens His arms to welcome me through His Son’s death, His son’s sacrifice that His justice demanded. Instead, this fearsome God holds my life gently in the palm of His hand. And it is through His power that I am empowered to face life’s challenges.

It is part of God’s character to be all just and all merciful at the same time. We mortals can’t pull that one off, but He does!

He wants more.

God doesn’t want automatons following programmed instructions. He wants our love, freely given, and played out in worship and obedience. That’s where I think the second level of “fear of the Lord” comes in. The “awe” part, that makes be bow before Him, want to know Him better, and love Him at the same time. I show my love for Him by obeying Him. His power and majesty will no longer terrify me, but fill me with that awe the pastors talk about.

So, back to the little brat. What if he looks up to his Uncle and loves to see him in his uniform? He wants to be just like him. Marines follow orders. He will follow his idol’s order and take a nap. When he wakes up, his uncle will walk alongside him while nephew pedals his new tricycle down the sidewalk.

What do you think? Are there two levels of “fear of the Lord?” Terror followed by awe? Can you have one without the other?